Urgent Matters

FirstNet must balance transparency, security goals during upcoming talks with state, public-safety officials

by Donny Jackson

Table of Contents:

Jul 05, 2016

FirstNet officials have promised considerable outreach to states and public safety as deployment plans for each state and territory are finalized and distributed. But balancing the desire for transparency and the need for security during these processes could prove challenging.

If all goes well, FirstNet will conclude its massive request for proposals (RFP) process by revealing its contractor partner in less than four months, according to the organization’s RFP schedule. While that announcement certainly will be a significant milestone, it will only mark the beginning of a new phase for FirstNet, which then has deliver the nationwide public-safety broadband network that first-responder officials have anticipated for so long.

Barring complications that could be introduced by potential protests of the FirstNet procurement process, the next step for FirstNet will be to work with its contractor partner to develop a deployment plan for all 56 of the states and territories.

While the final version of these state plans are scheduled to be released simultaneously to all governors  within 6 months of the contractor signing the 25-year deal with FirstNet, officials for FirstNet have been outspoken that nothing in the final state plan will surprise the governor, or at least key members of the governor’s staff.

To achieve this goal, representatives of FirstNet and the contractor will meet with each state’s single point of contact (SPOC) and a group of selected state officials to review the draft deployment plan for the jurisdiction. Inputs from this review process can be included in the final state plan that is delivered to the governor around May 1 of next year, if everything proceeds as scheduled.

On the surface, this draft-review process sounds pretty straightforward—and, hopefully, it will be. But the potential for complications certainly exists, and FirstNet officials will need to make some key policy decisions that could impact public safety’s adoption of the system, particularly during the early years of operation.

FirstNet already has taken significant strides in one area: managing expectations within states and territories about the flexibility in each deployment plan. Remember, FirstNet and the contractor will have signed a contract based on the contractor’s deployment proposal that was submitted by May 31 as part of the RFP process. States and territories seeking a wholesale overhaul the draft-plan proposal likely will be disappointed, because that could undermine the contractor’s business plan.

However, state officials will have a chance to provide input about the draft plan and propose some changes based on factors that FirstNet and contractor may not have considered before.

What will be interesting to watch is how this draft-review is conducted and how information is shared, both at this stage and after FirstNet delivers its final state plan to each governor.

That’s because FirstNet will be a public-safety network that will transport highly sensitive information every day. As such, it is expected to be a prime target for physical and cyber-based attacks. Nothing can be done about FirstNet’s target status, but the last thing anyone wants is to have the FirstNet system’s inner workings detailed on the Internet, making it significantly easier for potential attackers to identify vulnerabilities.

In other words, FirstNet is faced with an age-old conundrum: transparency and security goals historically have not been easily compatible. While FirstNet officials likely want to spread the word about its plans to build a highly secure, reliable network for public safety, exposing too many details to the public could compromise both security and reliability.

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Discuss this Blog Entry 1

98112 (not verified)
on Jul 5, 2016

FirstNet gets another pass on providing detailed information. No one expects the actual details of the proposed FN and its contractors' cyber security to be made public.

In keeping with everything about any information pertaining to what FirstNet really is, what it will actually do, is once again excused they get yet another pass.

FirstNet is just as likely to become FirstFailure as it is not. The Governor's cannot make the statewide and local markets mandated. So it will be a beauty contest between the alternatives to FirstNet and FirstNet.

In that match up all of the previous excuses, blind support, and back door help to make a bad deal look like an opportunity will be on trial. The "Docket "of value, federalist control, the true disregard of public safety input, and the 25 year contract will be judged in the "courts" of the individual PSE's.

In that court the evaluations will no longer be controlled by special interests. Let the actual "Best Plan" prevail.

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