Recent statements attributed to Verizon in the media that the carrier’s broadband service is the only public-safety-grade LTE network and that its planned public-safety LTE core network may be interoperable with the FirstNet system “suggest things that are simply not there,” according to a presentation yesterday to the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC).

Kevin McGinnis—a FirstNet board member who said he was speaking as a member of the National Association of State EMS Officials (NASEMSO) governing board when making comments about Verizon—described some of the recent Verizon assertions as “troubling references.”

Specifically, McGinnis cited a claim by Verizon in a prepared statement that was released on the Dec. 28 deadline day for governors to make their “opt-in/opt-out” decisions. In the statement, Verizon noted that its 2018 plans include “the introduction of products, services and other advanced technologies designed for first responders—all running on the country’s only public-safety-grade LTE network.”

NPSTC established the best practices and guidelines defining “public-safety-grade” communications systems in a report that was released in May 2014. Previous statements from Verizon stopped short of claiming that the carrier’s network actually meets the “public-safety-grade” definition, with one executive noting in a blog that the Verizon system “meets those guidelines in almost every aspect and actually exceeds many of them.”

As for the notion that the Verizon network is the “only public-safety-grade LTE network in the U.S., McGinnis said, “That is simply not true.”

Even more confusing to many in the public-safety community was an article this week indicating that Verizon “is working on an interconnection agreement with FirstNet and AT&T that would bring interoperability between the networks,” citing an interview with Mike Maiorana, senior vice president of Verizon Enterprise Solutions—Public Sector.

Whether the planned Verizon public-safety core network would be interoperable with the FirstNet core network being developed by AT&T has been a matter of considerable interest within the first-responder community. After conducting an initial meeting on the subject with FirstNet officials, Verizon has not had any further discussions with FirstNet about interoperability, according to a spokesperson. Verizon never met with AT&T officials about the possibility of reaching an interoperability agreement, according to the spokesperson.

In the wake of this week’s article, IWCE’s Urgent Communications asked whether Verizon interoperability talks with FirstNet/AT&T were under way. But the Verizon spokesperson said “nothing has changed” on the interoperability front during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications early this week.

McGinnis did not express hope that the proposed Verizon public-safety core would be interoperable with the FirstNet core that AT&T will operate.

“That is simply a very, very difficult construct,” McGinnis said. “It would create extra layers of complexity in implementing the whole network, and it would create unnecessary security complexity and risk, in my view.”

This sentiment was echoed during the NPSTC meeting by Tom Sorley, chairman of FirstNet’s Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC). Sorley said that Verizon has been making “pitches to our local governments and organizations,” so PSAC members decided to review the interoperability issue.

“A lot of folks said they were being approached and they wanted more information about the ins and outs, and the plusses and minuses, of connecting the cores. We had a lot of really good discussion on that,” Sorley said. “We all basically agreed that it basically wasn’t a good idea, and we agreed with the information that we were presented.”

It is important that public-safety officials strive to ensure that decision makers get accurate information during this time of considerable change within the public-safety-communications arena.

“As Kevin said, there’s been a lot of things going on in the market about people making claims that really aren’t provable or defendable,” Sorley said. “I think we, as public safety … who have been involved in this effort for the last 10 years, we need to make sure that we are holding folks accountable for what they say. It doesn’t hold near as much weight if AT&T comes out and says, ‘Hey, wait Verizon, that isn’t right’—then it kind of looks self serving.

“We’ve got to continue to be vigilant, as public safety, to make sure that what we’re advocating for—and have advocated for—is what’s happening.”