Longtime public-safety communications representatives today announced the creation of the FirstNet Association, an organization that founders hope will provide a platform for end users and vendors to discuss issues associated with the FirstNet nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN).

FirstNet Association President Al Gillespie—a past president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC)—said the new organization is being established to provide users and vendors with a way to become more educated about FirstNet and exchange ideas.

“It is open to anybody, and the dues will be minimal—$45 per person,” Gillespie said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “The goal is to bring these folks together to carry on the mission that we’ve been working on, make sure that there’s educational opportunities and make sure that there are opportunities to share, through forums, with each other about what’s working, what’s not working, and how can we best do this.

“The mission is to bring the users, the company, the federal organization—and all of the peripheral pieces that come to that—into a forum where they can share ideas and find out what’s working for each of those folks in their own areas and how to improve the service to the end users, the public-safety folks.”

FirstNet Association Treasurer Richard Mirgon—a past president of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO)—echoed this sentiment, noting that he believes the FirstNet Association will fill a void that traditional public-safety associations do not address today.

“Public safety is at its best when we’re all working together—and not just within public safety but with the private sector,” Mirgon said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “When you look at the traditional associations that Al and I have both been presidents of, they say to vendors, ‘Maybe you can be on a panel but don’t advertise.’ Well, sometimes you need to talk about what you’re doing, and nobody allows that conversation.

“We’re talking about doing state events and regional events where we bring everybody together as equals, have that honest conversation, try to capture that information and move it to the people who need it to help foster the development of FirstNet.”

Whether those conversations are conducted at in-person events or in online forums at the FirstNet Association web site (http://www.firstnetassociation.org/), the primary goal is to give all FirstNet stakeholders an opportunity to provide input and ask questions, Mirgon said. Some key topics that the FirstNet Association hopes its members will explore include FirstNet coverage, application ecosystem and local-control capabilities, he said.

“We’re not trying to come up with answers,” Mirgon said. “We’re trying to create the platform for people to have the discussion.”

Launching the FirstNet Association is the product of more than six months of planning by Gillespie, Mirgon and Ray Flynn—retired assistant sheriff from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department—who will serve as the FirstNet Association’s vice president.

Mirgon emphasized the fact that the FirstNet Association currently is not sponsored by FirstNet or AT&T, which is FirstNet’s nationwide contractor.

“We really are trying to be independent … That’s why our name is the FirstNet Association—not FirstNet, not AT&T, but the FirstNet Association,” Mirgon said. “Starting off with no sponsorship makes it very clear to everyone that this is not them. This is being done by three people who were there before Day 1 [of FirstNet]. We were part of the Public Safety Alliance and part of the Public Safety Spectrum Trust.

“I think you can trust us, because look at what our history is.”

Mirgon said he would not be surprised if AT&T sponsors FirstNet Association initiatives in the future.

FirstNet is not a sponsor of the FirstNet Association, but FirstNet Chairwoman Sue Swenson issued a statement of support for the fledgling organization.

“The emergence of the FirstNet Association offers great promise for the FirstNet public-safety user community and vendor community,” Swenson said in a prepared statement. “We stand ready to encourage its success so that FirstNet fully realizes its exclusive public-safety mission.”

FirstNet will work with the FirstNet Association as part of its regular outreach to organizations that advance the FirstNet ecosystem for the benefit of public safety, a FirstNet spokesperson told IWCE’s Urgent Communications.

The FirstNet Association is a for-profit organization that includes a non-profit foundation that will allow certain capabilities, such as the establishment of a scholarship program. Mirgon and Gillespie said there is a specific reason why the FirstNet Association opted for the for-profit model.

“Depending on what state you file in, your membership is your voting block [in a non-profit organization]—your membership can come together, vote you all out and change it [the organization’s mission],” Mirgon said. “In theory, a carrier could come in and buy up all of the memberships and say, ‘This is what we’re going to do.’”

Gillespie agreed.

“We want to make sure that we keep the focus where we believe it’s supposed to go,” Gillespie said. “If you have a bunch of people that have a larger voting block, they might hijack the organization and take it in the wrong direction.”