The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) board today authorized the release of a public notice seeking comment on preliminary interpretations and other issues regarding FirstNet’s authority under the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012. The board also approved the issuance of a comprehensive network solution request for information (RFI) soliciting views on a wide range of issues ahead of a draft request for proposal (RFP) scheduled for release in the first quarter of 2015.
Meeting at its Reston, Va., headquarters, the board also approved a fiscal year 2015 budget of about $120 million, in additional to spending to fund authorization obligations from FY 2014, which ends Sept. 30. FirstNet officials also offered a defense for why the authority has committed to spend only about one-third – or $64 million – of the board-authorized FY 2014 budget of $194 million.
The 39-page public notice is similar to a notice of proposed rulemaking issued by administrative agencies; FirstNet is not obligated to release such an item, but it believes it will provide useful input on its authority under the Middle Class Tax Relief Act, said Stuart Kupinsky, FirstNet’s chief counsel. FirstNet posted an unofficial copy of the notice on its web site today ahead of “Federal Register” publication expected soon. Comments will be due in 30 days in docket no. 140821696-4696-01.
Officials said responses to the public notice and the RFI, which were goals of a FirstNet roadmap approved earlier this year (TRDaily, March 11), will help inform the RFP process.
“It’s important to point out that this is a legal interpretation of the outer boundaries, if you will, of the provisions in our enabling legislation,” Mr. Kupinsky stressed. “These are not policy pronouncements within those boundaries.”
The notice seeks comment on a number of issues, including on proposed staff legal interpretations on matters. Among the matters that the notice solicits views on are the definition of public safety services and which entities and people should be able to use the network; the core network and radio access networks (RAN); the definitions of “rural” and “substantial rural milestones”; the RFP process; the leveraging of existing infrastructure; excess network capacity and network infrastructure fees; user fees; and leasing agreements.
Regarding who might use the network, Mr. Kupinsky noted that a preliminary interpretation of the Middle Class Tax Relief Act is that there should be three baskets of users: public safety entities, secondary users that may access the network but don’t provide public safety services, and other users.
As for the definition of public safety services, he observed that the preliminary interpretation is that FirstNet should use a definition that those services that either fall under the definition in the 1934 Communications Act, as amended, or the Homeland Security Act of 2002 should be considered. That would mean that the FCC’s interpretation that public safety services can include those provided by both government and non-governmental entities, including airport operations, transportation departments, and entities that protect city infrastructure.
Mr. Kupinsky said during board committee meetings yesterday that utilities would be also deemed public safety entities, although he said they could be subject to preemption depending on how the network is set up.
The notice also proposes an interpretation of secondary users as those that access the network on a secondary basis for non-public safety services and seeks comment on whether the definition should be constrained to those with covered leasing agreements.
And the document also proposes that “rural” should have the same meaning as “rural area” in the Rural Electrification Act of 1936, as amended, or “a city, town, or incorporated area that has a population of less than 20,000 inhabitants and is not adjacent and contiguous to an urbanized area that has a population of greater than 50,000 inhabitants. We also seek comments on whether the adjacency prong of the definition will pose any difficulties in applying the definition under the Act.”
As for the 16-page RFI, it includes as an appendix a 15-point draft statement of objectives (SOO) that is essentially a portion of a draft RFP. “We’re somewhere in between an RFI and a draft RFP,” Mr. Kupinsky told reporters during a conference call after today’s meeting. Responses to the RFI will not be made public, while responses to the public notice will be. FirstNet posted the RFI on its web site this afternoon ahead of its official posting on www.fbo.gov.
FirstNet acting General Manager TJ Kennedy said management hopes that the RFI solicits information that will help FirstNet prepare the draft RFP. He noted that since last year, FirstNet has issued a dozen RFIs, saying that the latest one can address questions raised in those.
The RFI asks questions about issues such as financial sustainability, accelerating deployment, rural milestones, hardening, priority and preemption, RAN integration for states that opt-out, other infrastructure integration, reliability and restoration, lifecycle integration, leveraging of infrastructure, user fees, service level agreements, and customer billing and marketing. The questions are designed to address points in the draft SOO.
Regarding financial sustainability, the RFI asks “how can FirstNet minimize costs and expenditures to build, deploy, operate, and maintain (including recapitalization) the NPSBN? Describe any innovative business solutions and revenue sharing structures you believe FirstNet should consider in order to maximize the utilization and monetization of FirstNet assets. Please describe the risks associated with your business solution suggestions as well as implementation timelines.”
As to FirstNet’s acquisition approach, the RFI asks, “Should FirstNet (a) seek proposals for a comprehensive, nationwide solution, (b) act as integrator and seek proposals for equipment and services to custom assemble a nationwide network, or (c) something between?”
The draft SOO lists the following 15 program objectives: (1) building, deploying, and maintaining the network, (2) ensuring financial sustainability, (3) offering pricing packages that are competitive, (4) providing end user devices, (5) establishing an ecosystem for applications, (6) accelerating speed to market, (7) ensuring the network is hardened, (8) providing priority access and preemption, (9) integrating into the network states that build their own RANs, (10), leveraging RANs and other infrastructure on a cost-reimbursement basis, (11) ensuring system reliability and restoration, (12) ensuring lifecycle innovation, (13) providing program and business management, (14), providing customer care and marketing, and (15) facilitating compliance with the Middle Class Tax Relief Act and other laws.
Mr. Kennedy and board members emphasized the importance of industry providing concrete advice to FirstNet to help it move forward to the RFP.
“I just want to make sure that the audience takes this seriously, and that, you know, we’re emphasizing that we’re really serious about wanting that input,” said board member Teri Takai, former chief information officer for the Department of Defense and two states. “It is going to shape not only what the RFP’s going to be, but it’s really going to shape what the network’s going to look like going forward.”
“We will be making some decisions in the RFP based” on the responses received to the RFI, agreed board Chairwoman Sue Swenson, adding that industry entities should not just submit “boilerplate responses.”
“We really want to get down to specifics,” Mr. Kennedy said. “We need to make some key technology decisions. We need to make some key business decisions, and this input will really help drive that. … Those decisions are not made.”
As for the budget, board members stressed that the fact that FirstNet committed to spend only $64 million of the $194 million that the board authorized for FY 2014 is not a reflection of its commitment to getting the nationwide public safety network built in a timely fashion. A story in yesterday’s TRDaily incorrectly said that the $64 million figure was the amount unspent from FY 2014.
“Usually when you have a project, you kind of really know the definitive outcome,” Ms. Swenson said. “We have an unusual situation here in that we have legislation which gives us a number of steps that we have to go through to get to a final answer. … I think that’s why we’re really trying to be prudent about the expenditure of funds, to make sure that they are matched to milestones and that we don’t overspend.”
Tim Bryan, chairman of the board’s Finance Committee, agreed. Officials “really want to move this process forward,” he said, but added that “we have to go through gates in order to reach milestones.”
The Finance Committee plans to meet in the upcoming weeks to delve into a FY 2015 budget memo and more detailed spending plan.
The FY 2015 budget obligation request breaks down as follows: comprehensive network RFP development ($49.9 million); state consultation, planning, and outreach ($24.8 million); network development ($10.3 million); administrative functions, ($15.3 million); and project support and infrastructure ($19.4 million).
Some network development funds will be used for a grant program to relocate users that currently operate on FirstNet’s 700 megahertz band D block spectrum, according to FirstNet Chief Financial Officer Randy Lyon. “We have a very good idea of the cost of moving these folks,” he said, indicating the details would be included in further budget documents. He said FirstNet could launch the grant program in FY 2015 or FY 2016.
Also at today’s meeting, Amanda Hilliard, director-outreach for FirstNet, noted that FirstNet’s Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC) is launching two working groups to focus on tribal and early builder issues. She said that the chairman of the first working group will be Richard Broncheau, who represents the National Congress of Americans Indians on the PSAC. Ms. Hilliard said that 17 tribal and public safety organizations have been invited to participate in the working group and that its first meeting is expected to be held in late October or early November.
She also said that the chairman of the early builder working group will be New Mexico CIO Darryl Ackley, while the vice chair will be Todd Early, deputy assistant director of the Public Safety Communications Service within the Law Enforcement Support Division of the Texas Department of Public Safety. The first meeting of that working group is expected to occur soon, she said.- Paul Kirby, firstname.lastname@example.org