End of 2016 FirstNet Contracts

First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) acting Executive Director TJ Kennedy said today that it’s too early to predict whether the authority might be able to award a contract or contracts by the end of next year to deploy a nationwide public safety broadband network.

At PCIA’s Wireless Infrastructure Show in Florida last week, Glenn Reynolds, chief of staff at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, said that FirstNet hopefully will be able to award a contract or contracts by the end of 2016 (TRDaily, April 29).

“We’ve really focused on the time lines we’ve put out, and meeting those few time lines, and we’re really focused on getting the RFP out by the end of the year,” Mr. Kennedy said in response to a question at a session this morning at the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International’s Public Safety Broadband Summit in Washington. “I think we’ll know more after draft RFP comments come in and we get that RFP out on the street. But I can tell you, we’re moving with urgency.”

FirstNet issued a draft RFP (request for proposals) late last month, along with a third public notice on the definition of “public safety entity” (TRDaily, April 27).

Mr. Kennedy said FirstNet is on track to release a final RFP by the end of this year “as long as there’s not a lot of extension requests.” He stressed the importance of all stakeholders weighing in on the draft RFP. “We’re open to better suggestions,” he said. “We want to get real, substantial feedback.” But he also noted that “what we do has to be sustainable.”

The draft RFP runs 266 pages plus additional content such as Excel documents for entities to respond to an operational architecture document. “The good news is, it’s a lot shorter actually than what it could have been,” Mr. Kennedy said. “It was much longer before.”

Mr. Kennedy also stressed that the network being planned by FirstNet will “continue to expand forever … just like you see out there with commercial networks today,” including bolstering in-building coverage and other coverage and capacity.

The draft RFP outlines a plan to construct the network in five phases followed by two waves of expansion. The initial deployment would take place over five years, Mr. Kennedy said. It also seeks comments on whether a nationwide or regional approach would be better.

He also touted the lessons that the five early builder projects are providing FirstNet even before all are up and running. He noted that all will be in operation by September. “I think it’s going to give us tremendous value,” he said, adding that those projects can “share all the good and the bad.”

Mr. Kennedy also said that initial consultation meetings with all 56 states and territories should be completed by the end of the summer, although he stressed that “consultation will never end. It’s an ongoing process.”

Mr. Kennedy also urged the public safety community to stick together, just as it did in convincing Congress to reallocate spectrum, reserve $7 billion, and create FirstNet.  “Public safety has stuck together,” he said, “and we need to continue to do that,” even during any fights that could come among industry entities seeking a contract with FirstNet.

In response to a question, Mr. Kennedy also said he is pleased that the Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications System (LA-RICS) has gotten the go-ahead to deploy its network using an alternative plan after having its spending briefly suspended (TRDaily, May 1). “It’s great that LA-RICS has had the suspension lifted,” he said.

During a subsequent session at today’s event, representatives of early builders described the progress on their projects. They also commended FirstNet for listening to the input of stakeholders.

“They’re listening to public safety,” said Todd Early, deputy assistant director of the Public Safety Communications Service within the Law Enforcement Support Division of the Texas Department of Public Safety and the state’s single point of contact (SPOC) for FirstNet. “They’re including the SPOCs in everything that they’re doing.”

For example, Mr. Early noted, the FirstNet staff has modified its preliminary interpretation on the definition of public safety entity in response to feedback from public safety.  Mr. Early also noted the difficulty of collecting data for FirstNet so it can incorporate it into its final RFP. “There’s a very tight time on that,” Mr. Early said. “So it’s going to be a sampling of data. … We’re targeting about 4,000 entities across the state.”

States have been asked to provide initial data by July 3, and are collecting the data with funds from the second phase of the State and Local Implementation Grant Program (SLIGP).

Mr. Early also said that officials in his state have been aggressive in reaching out to public safety in Texas to educate them about FirstNet, but he said that “you still go out and talk to folks and they don’t know what it is.” A survey of public safety entities in Texas found that 54% do not understand their role in the network planning process and 33% believe they have “minimal” awareness about the network.

“It’s been a huge learning curve,” said Fred Scalera, public safety broadband program manager for the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security & Preparedness and the state’s FirstNet SPOC, citing challenges deploying mobile antennas and other equipment for broadband services. “We keep adding to the lessons learned every day.”

In response to a question about the draft RFP, the panelists said they are still studying it, but Mr. Early praised FirstNet for releasing a draft document to give stakeholders a chance to weigh in “before they actually put out the RFP.”

“I think there’s goods, I think there’s bads” in the draft RFP, said Mr. Scalera said.

Jacque Miller, deputy chief information officer for the state of New Mexico,  noted that her state submitted “pointed comments” in response to a second public notice released by FirstNet seeking comment on various preliminary interpretations (TRDaily, April 30). She said that FirstNet wants such direct views on issues.

During another session today, Ray Lehr, a public safety consultant and former Maryland public safety official and FirstNet SPOC, suggested that it could take three years for FirstNet to complete the necessary consultation with states to complete state plans for all of them. Instead, he said, that process could move more quickly through the use of regional workshops.  Mr. Lehr also praised FirstNet for holding last month’s two-day meeting with all SPOCs (TRDaily, April 15), saying it gave them an opportunity to learn from each other.

Also at today’s event, Patrick Ringqvist, vice president-wireless networks for Ericsson North America, said that push-to-talk voice capabilities should be standardized on LTE networks within five years.

In interviews with TRDaily today, several public safety veterans generally praised FirstNet’s draft RFP.

“They did a good job is shaping the direction of where they’re headed,” said Chris Moore, senior vice president of Rivada Networks LLC and former chief of the San Jose, Calif., Police Department. “The level of detail is not quite there yet,” Mr. Moore added, but he said FirstNet probably won’t have that until it receives responses on the draft RFP.

“We were all, ‘OK, where are they going?’” Mr. Moore added. The draft RFP provides “a plan, which is better than we knew before.”

As to whether FirstNet is likely to be able to sign a contract or contracts by the end of next year, Mr. Moore said, “I think they’re under tremendous pressure to do it sooner than that.”

Joe Hanna, a public safety consultant and former public safety official and APCO president, called the draft RFP “an incredibly complex document.” He added, “I think it’s pretty clear that the game is open here” in terms of the business framework FirstNet is considering for deploying the network, Mr. Hanna added.

As to the third public notice, in which FirstNet narrowed its preliminary interpretation of those who might be eligible to use the network as public safety entities, such as utilities, Mr. Hanna said the network will be “DOA” if there are not enough secondary users to help pay for it. “This has got to be a big tent approach,” he added.

Chuck Dowd, a former FirstNet board member and former assistant chief of the New York Police Department who sits on an advisory board for Sonim Technology, Inc., a smartphone equipment maker, said he favors a stricter definition of public safety entity, stressing the need for the network to focus on its “core mission” of helping traditional first responders. But he said “that does not mean we can’t expand it as needed.” – Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com