December 16, 2016–Some state representatives say they are concerned about the impact of an extended delay before the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) awards a contract to a partner to build and maintain a nationwide public safety broadband network. FirstNet is in a bit of a holding pattern regarding the awarding of the contract. It had hoped to announce that award by Nov. 1, but the award has been delayed in the wake of a lawsuit filed by Rivada Mercury LLC, a consortium that contends it was illegally disqualified from the procurement’s “competitive range” (TRDaily, Dec. 2). If the lawsuit is not successful, AT&T, Inc., may be left as the only qualified bidder.
The Rivada Mercury complaint said that its counsel and the Department of Justice’s counsel “have agreed that Interior [which is overseeing FirstNet’s procurement] will not make an award under the RFP until March 1, 2017,” but an award seems likely to be delayed further than that by the litigation. “It’s just how long is that delay going to be and are we going to lose the momentum that we currently have where people had gotten excited that we were close,” said Ryan Burchnell, executive director of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency and the state’s FirstNet single point of contact (SPOC). “It worries me that public safety is going to start to turn away from the project itself, and that we’re going to lose that great momentum that we’ve had in the last few months.”
Mr. Burchnell said that all along, he had expected litigation over the FirstNet award. “I’m concerned about funding,” said Shelley Westall, the SPOC for Washington state. The state will need to consider additional funding sources for FirstNet activities if there is an extended delay before a contract is awarded and state plans are delivered, she said. “We’re looking at contingency planning for that in the next few months,” she said. “So delay is going to be very problematic for us.”
“Certainly a delay, I think, has always been expected. I mean, something this size – it’s going to have a lot of complications in timing and contractual issues and whatever it might be,” said Joe Galvin, the statewide interoperability coordinator for Illinois. “An extended delay, you know, that certainly will be more problematic. … The stalling of the program, I think, would be very problematic because of all the energies we’ve built behind this thing.”
He noted that his state’s FirstNet efforts are funded entirely through grants but not just the State and Local Implementation Grant Program (SLIGP). He said it has been working to get Homeland Security grants as well in case SLIGP grant funds dry up. “SLIGP 2.0” would help,” Mr. Galvin said. He noted that the state plans to have to return excess SLIGP funds in 2018 once the period for using the grants is over.
During the webinar, the state representatives also described their efforts to prepare to review state plans delivered by FirstNet. Once the state plan is delivered, Washington state plans to hold a series of workshops to educate stakeholders, said Ms. Westall. “We may actually look at the potential of an RFP as … a minimum as a baseline for comparison with the FirstNet state plan,” she said.
During the pre-state plan period, Washington state also has held an apps workshop, plans to hold a devices workshop early next year, is working on an agreement for data sharing between tribes and non-tribal entities, and is strengthening regional partnerships with Idaho and Oregon, Ms. Westall said.
Mr. Galvin said that a team of 10 technical experts who read the entire FirstNet request for proposals (RFP) will also study the state plan and then share a recommendation to a 120-member group that includes a broad cross-section of stakeholders in Illinois. There is a plan for three regional meetings once a draft state plan is available, he said.
Bradley Stoddard, director of the Michigan Public Safety Communications System, said the state has developed a matrix for reviewing the state plan. If there is a long delay in an award and the delivery of the plan, this framework will work with a future governor, he said.
Mr. Burchnell also said his state is developing a matrix for reviewing its state plan from FirstNet. Alabama also has issued an RFP (TRDaily, Sept. 20).
The speakers also said that their states want the full 180 days that governors will get before deciding whether to have FirstNet’s partner build a radio access network (RAN) in their states or whether to pursue their own RAN.
Meanwhile, in his weekly e-mailed commentary, Andy Seybold, a wireless industry consultant and public safety advocate, said today that “FirstNet is not standing around waiting and the states should not be either. This delay may, in fact, prove to be of benefit to states that have not prepared themselves with facts and ideas from other potential vendors that might want to be considered if a state decides to opt out.
“I think it is the duty of each and every state to have at least some idea of what it would take for it to opt out of the FirstNet system build and go it on their own,” he added. “I like the approach Arizona has taken to basically duplicate what it gave to FirstNet, but then California issued an RFI and might receive additional responses from companies that may not have been able to bid on the entire project but might offer a unique or different approach.”
Mr. Seybold also said that his “team has dug into the issue of which states can support the network and which states cannot and then dug much deeper inside the states to verify our findings. Some states we determined cannot support the network on a standalone basis will surprise you because a couple of them are larger states with some fair-sized population centers.” – Paul Kirby, firstname.lastname@example.org