May 15 2017–The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International’s chief counsel today criticized Rivada Networks LLC and other companies that have tried to convince states to opt out of having AT&T, Inc., the First Responder Network Authority’s (FirstNet) contract partner, build radio access networks (RANs) in their states. In a blog posting, Jeff Cohen, who is also APCO’s director-government relations, said that “the ink was barely dry on the FirstNet legislation when vendors and consultants began preying on states to convince them to opt-out, often with false promises of revenue from monetizing the spectrum dedicated to public safety. These businesses see more profit in keeping public safety divided than helping to achieve the goals of the FirstNet legislation.
“Certain vendors have been quite public about trying to convince states to opt-out and hire them. One in particular is promoting its dynamic spectrum exchange technology, which has not yet been proven in practice, let alone in a public safety environment,” added Mr. Cohen, referring to Rivada, which saw its bid as part of a consortium to become FirstNet’s network partner fail.
“A cardinal rule of public safety communications is that public safety shouldn’t be a proving ground for a proprietary, untested technology,” Mr. Cohen added. “Further, the spectrum exchange model may bring a number of substantial financial risks to governors. A recent economic analysis by NERA Economic Consulting explains that ‘the deployment of a state-owned RAN is costly,’ consisting of initial capital investment, operating expenses, and upgrading or incremental capital expense. Among states that have issued RFPs to explore opt-out, its author, Christian Dippon, estimates that New Hampshire, Alabama, and Arizona can expect to pay as much as $48 million, $269 million, and $524 million, respectively.”
Mr. Cohen stressed what he said are the advantages of states allowing AT&T to construct their RANs. “Due to its nationwide scope, partnership with AT&T, and statutory obligations, FirstNet will be able to achieve and sustain national-level economies of scale and purchasing power, rural coverage, greater spectrum capacity, and wireless broadband network expertise that are beyond the reach of any state acting alone,” he said. “FirstNet has already consulted extensively with state and local agencies. This means that FirstNet knows what the priorities for each state (and its local components) are, as does AT&T.”
He also called “nearly impossible” getting approval to opt out. “By congressional design, states seeking to opt out must hurdle three separate high bars in short order. The law’s stringent provisions speak for themselves,” said Mr. Cohen, who worked on the legislation as a House aide. He suggested that states that opt out will harm the network through (1) added costs and complexity from fragmentation, (2) imperiled interoperability, and (3) additional cybersecurity risks. —Paul Kirby, firstname.lastname@example.org