Headshot of Edward Horowitz; Public Safety First podcast logo; blue audio wave line; “Edward Horowitz – Shaping FirstNet from need to reality”

Summary

Edward Horowitz reflects on his time as Chair of the FirstNet Authority Board and shares how his career and personal experiences led him to serve the nation’s public safety community.


Transcript

Episode 42| Edward Horowitz – Shaping FirstNet from need to reality
Ed Parkinson, FirstNet Authority Chief Executive Officer
Edward Horowitz, FirstNet Authority Board Member, former FirstNet Authority Board Chair

Narrator: You're listening to Public Safety First, a podcast to help you learn about the First Responder Network Authority and how you can be part of the future of public safety technology.

And now, your host.

Ed Parkinson: Welcome to the Public Safety First podcast. I’m Ed Parkinson, the CEO of the First Responder Network Authority. Today, I’m joined by Ed Horowitz, long-time member of the FirstNet Authority and our recently retired Board chair. Ed joined the Board back in 2015, before the network contract had been awarded, playing a significant role in those early days as we launched the network and this unique public-private partnership. Later, when he became the Board chair, he oversaw major milestones in the growth of the network, including the deployment of the Roadmap and the first network investments. I’m so pleased to have him here today to have him talk about his experiences with FirstNet. So, Ed, thank you so much for joining us. It’s a pleasure to have you here.

Edward Horowitz: Hi, Ed. Well, thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here and an honor, too, to be part of this broadcast series.

Ed Parkinson: Terrific. Well, let’s take a look back in history. Really, for more than 40 years as an industry leader in telecom, media, broadcasting, and financial services, as well as five years as a FirstNet Board member, with the last two as chair, you’ve had quite a career. What brought you to FirstNet in the first place?

Edward Horowitz: Thanks, Ed, that’s quite an introduction. When you describe someone as having a career that’s 40 years or more, it makes one sound older than dirt, and I don’t feel that way, so, my career is almost that long, but not quite. I’ve been very, very fortunate in my life and in my career, having been able to work in areas that were literally at the beginning of their development. So, at the beginning of my career, I worked on building out the infrastructure that supported that supported the construction of cable TV companies in and around the New York metropolitan area and then subsequently around the country. And then, as time progressed, we built out the infrastructure that enabled, satellite distribution of video, first via terrestrial microwave systems and subsequently by satellite communications. And that allowed the company that I was working with at the time to get national distribution overnight, and subsequently we did the same thing for other services at Viacom including MTV, Nickelodeon, and Showtime. So, I’d say to define my career – it was pretty much in the buildout of infrastructure. The other portion of my career was involved in the development of financial services that were specifically guaranteed and oriented towards internet distribution. So, it was banking, brokerage, foreign exchange, cash management needed to have the infrastructure necessary to provide the highway over which that information was to be able to be created and distributed.

It was actually in that last phase of my career in the, when I was working in financial services, I was scheduled to attend a conference on 9/11 on the Windows of the World restaurant at the World Trade Center. I was invited there by a computer company, which was focused on developing services for the financial services community. About a week before that meeting, it was determined that the size of the group that was scheduled to attend was too large for the room, and the meeting location was changed, from the World Trade Center to Midtown Manhattan. So, the morning of September 11th, I was sitting in a large ballroom with other colleagues from the financial services community when someone came in to the room and said, “Ladies and gentleman, we’re going to end this meeting now. You’re all going to be required to go back to your home offices,” most of which were down in the Wall Street area, “because there’s been a major catastrophe.” And they displayed on a large screen what was going on in the downtown area, and, obviously, it was what we have seen over and over and over again.

And I’ll just tell you this – I was scheduled to be on that 102nd floor. I would be not talking to you today had I been there for that meeting. In fact, a friend of mine, who worked for Merrill Lynch, had a meeting that he was attending, in fact, moved to that room, which is where I was supposed to be, and he’s no longer with us. So, there is a moment in time – I look back to that moment. I thank someone very high for looking over me and pulling me out of that environment, and it was really in that moment that I determined that I was going to try to figure out a way to somehow be involved in whatever the rebuilding was going to have to be. And it’s pure serendipity that I received a call from a third party indicating that this new organization – the First Responder Network Authority – that had just been stood up, was looking for someone to be in a leadership position and/or on its board. And after probably a year process. I was invited to join the Board. The unbelievable circle, if you will.

Ed Parkinson: Well, I remember the first time you told me that story of your experiences on 9/11 and I found it emotional then as I do now, and I know I speak for everyone involved with the projects, including all of public safety to say a) we were lucky, very, very lucky, that you were not at Ground Zero on 9/11, but also the fact that it took you, albeit a long time, to join the Board. We’re extremely lucky to have someone with your skill set, not only active on the Board, but also leading the Board over the last few years. But, you know it’s that active on the Board piece I just want to shift a little bit to, since, you know, since a lot has changed since you joined the Board back in 2015, I don’t think the contract had been awarded at that stage. In fact, I think the RFP [request for proposals] hadn’t even been put out there, and you had a pretty active role to play in assisting and designing the RFP, the business model, and so, could you talk maybe a little bit about the dynamics of the Board and the role you played as we developed the RFP, and how all the parts work together in leading up to this partnership announcement? Just really that time period was absolutely fascinating.

Edward Horowitz: Sure. Well, first of all, I think that it’s important to recognize the brilliance of the architecture of the people that framed the bill that there was a requirement that the Authority be financially sustaining and independent. That a portion of its startup budget was provided as a result of a successful spectrum auction, and that the overall business proposition needed to be a public-private partnership between government and private sector. In addition, there was similar brilliance in deciding that this entity needed to have a Board of Directors that was comprised of 3 from the government and 15 not from the government. In fact, the diversity of that Board of Directors was pretty well thought-out. Because as important as it is that we gain through normal and regular communications from public safety what they believe they need it to be, it is important that this entity be managed as a long-term sustainable entity with significant investment dollars. So, that is kind of the platform that was laid out when I first joined the Board.

When I first came in, the Authority had established 16 objectives as opposed to developing a contract that had specific requirements, the approach that was taken by the Authority was to establish goals. And I think, again, that was just one of those very thoughtful things that were done by the architects not to have this be a specific RFQ [request for quote], and also, not to necessarily be built out by the government. So that was kind of the environment that, you know, existed when I first came in, and it was that blend that I found to really be, again, a perfect blend between the needs of the customer, the assets that the company was given, that the entity was given, the financial transaction that needed to take place in order to ensure that it would be a sustainable national network that was being built out.

Ed Parkinson: Yeah, that’s the key in ensuring that we could develop a model and, to your point, one that market would come back to and respond to, was really unknown, so it was fantastic to see the opportunities that came forward and ultimately AT&T came out on top through that competitive process. I think, when looking back to when we made the contract award in March of 2017 – that was just before the time that you took over as Board Chair, so that must have been a fascinating experience, coming at this from seeing the RFP on the street, to then seeing the award, to then taking over as Chair, and you took over from Sue Swenson – tell us a little bit about that transition, Ed, and really, what was it like stepping into that role, and what were some of the goals that you had that you wanted to achieve as you took over?

Edward Horowitz: Well, you know, I talk about when I got involved in FirstNet, first as, I’ll call it an applicant – it was really Sue Swenson and Jeff Johnson were Chair and Vice Chair, Harlin McEwen was intimately involved in the entity at the time, as well as some other major icons in public safety. And so, it was really picking up on the vision that they had to assure that public safety would get the delivery on the promise.

Prior to my being appointed Chair, I was on the Governance Committee and the Finance Committee, so again, I had some sense of, you know, the selection process, the business process, the governance process. I would really have, I would not have minded their counsel on the Board for another year after taking it on. Which is why I’m not letting Tip go. We’ve got Tip coming on to the Board. He was on the Finance Committee, he was on the Technology Committee, he was on the Governance Committee, now he’s Chair of the Board, and I am going to give him the benefit of my experience on the Board, whether he likes it or not, for one more year because I really missed it when Sue left, and I feel like I owe it to him and to the Authority.

Ed Parkinson: Ed, well that’s terrific. I think the experience you’ve been able to show, especially the insights we’ve been able to garner from you and other Board members has held up the organization in good esteem. To that point, I’ve been fortunate enough to serve as Acting CEO, Jeff Bratcher the same, and now as full CEO under your stewardship, and you’ve been extremely busy – traveling on behalf of FirstNet, speaking publicly, engaging with the staff. Could you share just a couple of some of your proudest moments that you’ve experienced here at the organization?

Edward Horowitz: That’s an excellent question. Ok, one is the contract award and the mechanism and the structure that it was, and how it has been set up. The second has been being present at the 100 percent opt-in. The third has been the activation of the first customer. The fourth has been the issuance of the Roadmap which sets forth, based upon the strategy, what our investments process will look like. And the fifth would be actually the initiation of the first investment.

Ed Parkinson: Let’s just pull the thread, if you don’t mind, on those investments. You saw the process go through, you were intimately involved in understanding how the process as well as the ideas that came forward. The investments are proving to be successful in terms of where we’re going and setting up the organization for future success. Where do you see the organization going in the next 2-3 years?

Edward Horowitz: Well, I think that the investments are guided by the Roadmap. The Roadmap sets forth six domains, and the first two investments kind of deal with two of the core domains of the enterprise, which is coverage and the ability to migrate the technology. The next is to figure out, we’ll call it the third category, which might encompass four different domains. How do we bring greater adoption of the capability into the operating environment. So, telemedicine for example. This pandemic has given rise to the whole category of telemedicine. Something that we intuitively knew was important, but now is proving to be. So, what can our investments be going forward – I’d say would be in training, virtual reality, augmented reality, and building out infrastructure that will support those, allowing there to be an application ecosystem in which experimentation can occur and, again, the job of serving the public is made easier and greater capability by those people in public safety.

I don’t have a magic bullet and a magic answer to say where should you invest in next. My counsel is don’t look back, look ahead. I think we can get a lot out of the PSCR [Public Safety Communications Research division] and what they are doing – location-based services is critical. That is the Z-axis. And pushing forward on additional devices.

Ed Parkinson: So, you mentioned not looking back, but I am going to ask you to look back. You consistently remind me that New York is the center of the Earth, which I give you hard time for having grown up in Philadelphia and elsewhere. But, you have traveled the country on behalf of FirstNet. Tell me what some of the places that you’ve been to that surprised you, but I’m sure there’s a consistent theme of public safety and the incredible experience that the men and women out there provide.

Edward Horowitz: Yeah, I think you’re – my characterization of New York City is that it’s the center of the universe, not just the world, by the way. Dedication. The consistency across the country is the dedication of men and women, both in uniform and in support of those people who are in uniform, whether it’s police, fire, or EMS, and it doesn’t matter if you’re in the smallest town of West Virginia, in the most rural area of Wyoming, in the most urban area of Los Angeles, Seattle, Sacramento, Dallas, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, where we have been. What we uniformly see is a dedication to providing a service in support of the citizens and population in those communities, and then sometimes on a paid basis, and more often than not on a volunteer basis. There’s really not a good understanding by the general public just how much work goes into providing effective police, fire, and EMS services, and that is the thing that has had the most profound impact on me. How much work is required to go in, to provide a service that we, the general populous, take for granted. How do we make sure that we educate the general public to what they’re getting and why it’s so valuable that they keep supporting the public safety community?

Ed Parkinson: Well as you’ve mentioned, you have another year on the Board, Ed, and we’re certainly going to be keeping you busy over that. So, I’m excited for that, and I know that you’re going to stay busy in various aspects that Tip and Rich Carrizzo, as Vice Chair, will be pointing you in the right direction. But, any final thoughts, any final ideas, any final comments you’d like to make before we wrap up?

Edward Horowitz: Well, thank you. First of all, I just want to thank you again for this opportunity, Ed, and for the opportunity to be part of the FirstNet Authority. Thank you to Secretary [Penny] Pritzker who appointed me originally and thank you to Secretary [Wilbur] Ross who reappointed me two years plus ago, for this opportunity.

So, I want to congratulate Tip on his new role. I’ve had the privilege and pleasure of working with him in both the public and private sector. I think he’s going to be a great Chair, and I’m looking forward to working with him. I’m looking forward to the continued development of the Roadmap, and the consistent adjustments of our investments, and the potential of investments into the new network, and I’m looking forward to continuing the commitment to build out a network that public safety has said it needs, and try to anticipate what we should be thinking about as we look forward, Ed, in making future investments.

Ed Parkinson: Well, thanks, Ed. I appreciate that. I really appreciate the conversation and the time you’ve taken today. It’s been an absolute privilege working alongside you in your role, and I’m so pleased to see that you’re going to be with us still for some good period of time. But, I appreciate your time. Thank you for all your service to public safety and to the FirstNet project. We wouldn’t be here without you. So, many, many thanks, and, I look forward to the future of the organization with you as a part of it.

Edward Horowitz: Thank you, Ed, and thank you to the entire team. If I can do a shout out to the FirstNet, my family – thank you so much for everything that you do, every single day, and for what you’re going to do every day going forward.

Narrator: Thanks for listening today. We're excited to have you join our podcast community. Make sure to subscribe on iTunes, SoundCloud, and YouTube. You can learn more about the First Responder Network Authority at FirstNet.gov and learn about FirstNet products and services at FirstNet.com.

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