When FirstNet released the final RFP it allowed for questions to be asked until February 12, 2016. This is a great opportunity for prospective bidders and their partners to gain a level of clarification. However, to submit a question you must use a FirstNet form that does provide a method for asking the question, but does not allow for putting the question into context. In some cases the context is as important as the question. While a question may seem arbitrary or unwarranted, if it is preceded by a statement containing pertinent information there can be a better understanding of the rationale for asking it, thus a more appropriate answer can be forthcoming.
My example is the requirement within the RFP that the successful bidder (partner) have 50% of the Public Safety device connection target by 24 months after the contract award and 100% by 48 months after or face large monetary penalties. I presume these requirements are in the RFP to preclude a partner from building the network and then not trying in earnest to get the first responder community to use it, so the partner has more access to the spectrum. In this case, both the timeline for these requirements and the percentages are not, in my estimation, achievable by any company, even the four largest wireless network operators. Apparently the vendor is supposed to provide the target numbers, but FirstNet says there are “between 3 and 12 million first responders.” Is this target then tied to 50% of 3 million or 50% of 12 million (a very high and questionable number). I have to ask whether this 12 million is sworn personnel only or if it includes all of the civilians.
The RFP’s definition of a Public Safety user is a “User of the NPSBN that provides public safety services.” Next, I believe network usage will expand from the top down in organizations. That is, the initial FirstNet customers will be chiefs and line officers who will try out the network for command and control and see how it works and whether it provides the same level (or better) coverage they currently experience with one of the commercial networks. Over time, as the network matures and more devices that are designed for field use come on the market, network usage might spread to an entire department. My biggest concern is that network operators with networks in place and already serving the Public Safety community will compete with FirstNet if they are not the successful bidder.”
The biggest issue here is that according to the law, there is no requirement that a Public Safety agency make use of FirstNet. Network operators can move their pricing anywhere they want. Public Safety is a small but prestigious portion of their total user population and two of the networks already offer a form of priority access to the first responder community. Even though it does not include full, ruthless pre-emption, it is better than it was before. If one of the network operators becomes the FirstNet partner the other three will, of course, do what they can to keep their own installed base of Public Safety users.
My final points have to do with how much of the network can be in place by month 24 of the contract. This is not clear as it will depend on the chosen partner and could vary widely. The vendor (partner) must have devices available and establish a sales and marketing program that will provide easy access to the network and the devices. Further, it will to take time to train people in how to deal with the Public Safety community, cities, counties, and states, and some of the buying cycles could be extended because of having to wait for the following year’s budget for funds. I would rate the likelihood of ANY potential vendor/partner being able to meet the percentage of use in the time periods allocated as slim to none. That means as part of the RFP decision the bidder will have to accept the fact that they will be penalized a lot of money, or it means FirstNet will have to make changes to sections that address this issue.
Either way, as you can see, the context of the question asked is as important as the question itself, because it could include items FirstNet may not have thought through completely. FirstNet’s stated goal with the RFP is to attract a number of qualified bids from potential partners, and it has done a pretty good job of changing the RFP to reflect that interest. Even so, there are still areas of the documents such as this that could push the fence sitters over the other side into the no response column. Have a Great Weekend! Andy Continue reading