March 29, 2017–LAS VEGAS – State officials and a consultant today stressed the importance to states of issuing request for proposals (RFP) for alternative plans ahead of getting state plans from the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), saying that doing so gives states something with which to compare the FirstNet offerings. During a session at the IWCE show here, representatives of Alabama and New Hampshire noted that their states issued RFPs and that New Hampshire contracted with Rivada Networks LLC to develop a draft alternative state plan. The speakers noted that the legwork by states is crucial given the tight timeframes that states face to decide whether to seek to opt out of having FirstNet’s partner build a radio access network in their states and to prepare alternative plans for federal government approval.
Under the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, which established FirstNet, governors have 90 days after receiving the FirstNet state plan to notify the government that they want to opt out of having FirstNet’s partner build a radio access network in their states. Within 180 days after that, states must complete an RFP and submit an alternative plan for approval by the FCC, which is charged with reviewing whether plans would comply with minimum technical interoperability requirements. If the FCC approves a state plan, the state has to apply to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration for authority to secure a spectrum capacity lease agreement with FirstNet. States seeking to build their own RANs may also apply to NTIA for grant funds to help cover those costs.
“Plain and simply, the state of Alabama has made no decision on opt in and opt out, and I don’t know a SPOC that’s indicated that they had,” said Ryan Burchnell, executive director of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency and the state’s FirstNet single point of contact (SPOC). “All of us are attempting to do our due diligence under the law,” he added. “Without exploring what opt-out means, we really cannot effectively give that information to the governor for him to make that informed decision.”
He stressed that 90 days would not be enough time for the governor to make a decision and that the 180-day deadline would not be “near enough time for an RFP the size and scope we’re talking about.” “The beauty about going the RFP process is we may very well determine that there is no alternative, and that’s an answer too, and we’re welcome to either answer,” Mr. Burchnell added.
John Stevens, the statewide interoperability coordinator and FirstNet SPOC for New Hampshire, said, “There are no greater advocates for FirstNet then public safety in New Hampshire. … We remain in lockstep with FirstNet.” But he said that the 90- and 180-day deadlines in the law were “unrealistic for us.”
He noted that it took New Hampshire 15 months to go from an RFP concept to an award last year (TRDaily, Sept. 7, 2016). The draft 400-page alternative plan has been completed, Mr. Stevens said, but he stressed that it is “a living document” that will be modified, if necessary, until presented to the governor.
“We took a lot of slings and arrows in the very beginning because we put out an RFP,” Mr. Stevens said. “But in all honesty, I will tell you that it’s been well worth the effort that we have made.”
Shelley Westall, the Washington state OneNet program manager and the FirstNet SPOC, said her state had explored a regional RFP with other states but it was decided that the timing was not right for Washington state. Instead, it wants to review the FirstNet state plan first. “We don’t want to tell anybody that we are opting out. We don’t want to tell anybody that we’re opting in. We’re going to hold that close to our chest right now and see what the state plan delivers,” she said.
She also said the state is short on resources to do much planning ahead of the state plan delivery, saying her office includes her and two part-time employees.
Dominick Arcuri, principal of DVA Consulting, said that states that don’t explore alternative plans will be forced to opt in to the FirstNet network “because that will be their only choice.” “An alternative plan is very important because it gives you a baseline to compare against,” he said. “Prior planning is critical for the states.”
Panelists also observed that the terms opt out or opt in are deceiving, because either way a network will be built in every state. “It’s really a decision not of opt in or opt out, but of being a consumer or being a partner/ owner,” said Mr. Burchnell. – Paul Kirby, firstname.lastname@example.org