Public Safety Advocate: FirstNet’s March Madness

Thu Mar 2 17:00:21 2017

As I write the first draft of this week’s Public Safety Advocate, I realize it is March 1, the date the Department of Justice (DOJ) apparently agreed it would wait for before making an RFP award for FirstNet. The court will be holding its oral arguments session this Friday and at some point after that, unless the court requires more information, a decision regarding the issue of Rivada being excluded from the final phase of the contract review will be decided.

If it is decided in favor of the federal government, it is possible an award could be made soon after the verdict is announced. However, if Rivada indicates it might take the matter to the next level of the justice system, the feds may feel they have to, once again, wait for that to play out. It is my belief that if Rivada pursues the next legal steps, the outcome, regardless of who wins, will be dismal for Rivada. I refer you back to a previous Public Safety Advocate in which I predicted that even if Rivada wins it will lose because Public Safety, the vendor community, and many state elected officials are upset about the current delay. More delays would only make it worse.

If Rivada wins the day, there will be another delay while those reviewing the contract for the federal government will have to consider Rivada’s RFP response and weigh the response against what is believed to be the only other RFP that has been moved to the final stage. After that is completed, there should be an award soon after and, hopefully, the losing entity will respect the final outcome and not cause any more delays to the process.

An interesting article by The Street reported that at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week, AT&T had won the RFP award. FirstNet was quick to correct the Street and made it clear that no award has, as yet, been made. The FirstNet statement reported in the same article stated correctly, “A final decision of an award has yet to be made and is still under review.”

My optimistic view of all this is that March could be a month of high activity surrounding FirstNet. First, a favorable court decision with no appeal, next an award made to the last bidder standing, and perhaps even the issuance of the contract so the clock will start to move forward with a lot of activities all at once. The RFP, as you might recall, packs a lot of activity into the first six months of the contract including the preparation and delivery of the state plans so the states can begin their reviews and those reviewers within the state can make a recommendation to the governor of the state to opt-in to FirstNet building and maintaining the network within their state, or opt-out and then having to jump through hoops, first with the FCC, next the NTIA, and finally FirstNet.

Since the RFP was released last year, those in two of the organizations, the NTIA and the FCC, have changed personnel at least at the executive levels, and those who are now in charge will have to come up to speed on the opt-out process, then work with any state that wants to opt out to approve its own state plan. I am also sure there will be vendors that did not win the RFP that will be pushing various states to opt out in favor of that vendor building the network within the state. As you know, New Hampshire has already selected Rivada if it opts out, so it will be interesting to see how its governor decides to move forward. Alabama and Arizona, among others, also have RFPs on the street, California has an RFI out, and I am sure there might be others releasing documents as soon as the award is made.

And now we will pause for a word from our sponsors

So at this juncture I am including for the first time a blatant self-promotion about what we have been up to. For this past year, and on our own dime, we have been developing a series of strategies to help states and counties within those states work with FirstNet and the RFP winner to increase the amount of rural coverage provided to Public Safety while also helping to close the gap of what is being referred to as the digital divide for rural businesses and residents. The first thing we have learned is that there are a variety of ways using different types of technologies, partnerships, and other resources to augment what FirstNet and the RFP winner are capable of providing in rural areas. We have begun briefing some states and we are open to talking to counties that would like to consider our ideas and, of course, our services.

Now back to our regularly scheduled Advocate

So March will either be a great month or yet another month of disappointments for many. I am counting on the fact that when we all show up at IWCE at the end of March, the madness that has prevailed will all have been good or great and that the next major phase of FirstNet will be at hand. Too many people have worked too hard, too many Public Safety agencies have been disappointed at the progress and delays, and it is time, this month, to put the delays aside and get this project back on track!

Andrew M. Seybold

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