FirstNet Holds First Industry Day to Detail Draft RFP

The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) held its first industry day to discuss in detail the special notice and draft request for proposals (RFP) that it released last month (TRDaily, April 27), although FirstNet officials and the authority’s contracting officer declined to answer a number of questions posed by attendees while in other cases their answers were vague.

“More than 425 representatives from federal, state, local jurisdictions, associations, and the vendor community participated in person or via webcast,” FirstNet said in a news release of the meeting at its Reston, Va., headquarters.

“We are pleased with the attendance – both in-person and on the webcast – and the quality of our discussions,” FirstNet acting Executive Director TJ Kennedy said in the release.  “It shows there is a great deal of interest from market participants and the public safety community in establishing the best possible network for public safety.”

During the event, Mr. Kennedy stressed that the authority wants to encourage a myriad of proposals for constructing the nationwide public safety broadband network, as long as the network is financially sustainable and FirstNet’s other objectives are met. “We don’t want to be overly restrictive,” he said. “This leaves it very open for you.”

Rich Reed, FirstNet’s director-state plans, said that FirstNet, in its consultation with states, is gathering information on key data such as the public safety user population, high risk areas, the overall population, developed areas, and roadways and using the data to build maps to show coverage objectives. He said the final RFP, which is expected to be released at the end of this year, will include such information so industry stakeholders know “what the public safety needs are.”

John Quinlan, FirstNet’s deputy chief financial officer-strategic planning, discussed the authority’s proposed business plan, which envisions being financially sustainable using $7 billion in government funding, user fees, synergies, and funding from leasing excess network capacity. He also stressed that FirstNet wants any contracts to be long-term. FirstNet has said it anticipates a base period of performance of award through 2022, with an option to extend through 2027 and a subsequent option to extend through 2032. “We want to reduce risks for our public safety ender users,” Mr. Quinlan said. “That they have confidence that this network is going to be around for a while.”

Among the questions attendees at the industry day asked are whether the officials could describe the differences in the deployment process for opt-out vs. opt-in states, whether officials might add a third deployment category  in the final RFP, if they could provide more details on in-building coverage requirements, and what FirstNet means by financial sustainability. In some cases, the officials provided answers, although some were vague, while in other cases they said it was premature to do so or they said they would provide answers in writing. “We’ll release as much information as we feel is appropriate,” said Terrie Callahan, FirstNet’s contracting officer.

But she also was encouraging to industry representatives, saying, “You have to make a solution that it’s too good for them to say no.” In response to a question about whether there might be a third category of deployment, she said, “We’re looking for feedback and comments. . If you see something that may be a better value . please recommend it.” As to the question of what financially sustainable means, Mr. Quinlan said FirstNet has “a legal mandate” to recover all of its costs in any given year and can only award a contract or contracts if it is financially sustainable.

He also noted FirstNet’s obligation to continue to reinvest in the network. As to deployment in opt-out vs. opt-in states, acting Chief Counsel Jason Karp said FirstNet has solicited input from stakeholders assuming all states will opt in. Obviously, if some states opt-out, it would change the “operational picture” and FirstNet would have to modify its plans, he said.

Ms. Callahan also said that officials left out of the special notice and RFP documents some information because they are still working on it, including a document on “cyber hardness.” She said those documents will be provided in a subsequent RFP. With the procurement process officially underway in the wake of the release of the draft RFP, she also warned stakeholders not to try to contact FirstNet board members or executives directly and instead to contact her. She said if entities violate the rule, they could be disqualified from being considered for any contracts. Ms. Callahan also said a notice would be posted tomorrow on www.fbo.gov about individual meetings that can be held and that she will attend.- Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com