Southern Linc, CO FirstNet Entity Criticize FirstNet, AT&T Arguments on Draft FCC Order

Southern Linc and the FirstNet Colorado Governing Body (FirstNet Colorado) have submitted filings at the FCC criticizing arguments made by the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) and AT&T, Inc., in the agency’s proceeding in which it plans to adopt an order at its June 22 meeting to establish procedures for reviewing alternative plans filed by states that want to “opt out” and contract to build their own radio access networks (RANs) rather than have AT&T, FirstNet’s partner, build them (see separate story).

In an ex parte filing yesterday in PS docket 16-269 and GN docket 17-83, Southern Linc complained that FirstNet “recently submitted a notice of ex parte presentation that once again seeks to erect unnecessary procedural barriers to a state’s choice to opt-out from the FirstNet radio access network. While purporting to implement the Spectrum Act, FirstNet offers unduly rigid interpretations of the state opt-out process that neither reflect the statutory text, nor honor Congress’s decision to permit states a measure of autonomy on how to support public safety officials in their state. The draft order circulated by Chairman [Ajit] Pai, by contrast, implements the plain language of the statute by not imposing artificial obstacles to a state’s effort to invoke its opt-out rights under the law. Southern Communications Services, Inc., d/b/a/ Southern Linc (Southern Linc) therefore encourages the Commission to adopt the draft Order as written.”

Southern Linc added that “FirstNet renews its effort to use the Commission’s process for evaluating the interoperability of state opt-out plans as a vehicle to prohibit states or their network partners from employing their own core network elements. FirstNet never addresses the reality that a state or its network partner cannot have visibility into the traffic on its network — and therefore cannot assess and manage capacity, security, and reliability of traffic as the Spectrum Act requires the state to do — unless a state employs its own core. The draft order correctly recognizes that the Commission’s role is limited to evaluating the interoperability of a state’s radio access network (RAN). The Commission’s draft order does not reject an otherwise qualified plan merely because it contains core network elements. The Commission should adopt its proposed approach.”

A separate filing by Southern Linc also asked the FCC to “disregard the ‘interoperability compliance Matrix’ FirstNet recently submitted in this proceeding. FirstNet has provided no context for this spreadsheet and the document itself references numerous other documents that, in turn, refer to voluminous and highly technical standards documents and industry best-practices criteria. Neither the public, nor the Commission has had a meaningful opportunity to review FirstNet’s ‘interoperability compliance matrix’ or the highly technical materials the submission incorporates by reference. While the materials FirstNet submitted may yet prove relevant, FirstNet’s belated submission has no place in the Draft Order.”

In another filing, Southern Linc said that “AT&T’s recent assertion that Congress intended to make the state opt-out process ‘exceptionally difficult and costly’ has no basis in the statute. The Spectrum Act provides only two technical interoperability requirements adopted by the FCC’s advisory committee, and (2) interoperability with the NPSBN. As FirstNet previously recognized, ‘Congress drew a balance between the interoperability and self-sustainment goals of the Act and preserving the ability of States to make decisions regarding the local implementation of coverage, capacity, and many other parameters if they wanted to exercise such control.’ Congress set a reasonable bar for states that wish to opt-out of FirstNet’s plan subject to meeting certain interoperability requirements.

“Contrary to AT&T’s claims, the Spectrum Act limits the FCC’s review to whether or not the state has satisfied certain minimum technical interoperability requirements,” Southern Linc added. “The FCC’s interoperability review process simply does not extend to a state’s LTE core network architecture because nothing about that architecture necessarily precludes interoperability. In addition, the 180-day deadline for an opt-out state to ‘develop and complete’ a request for proposal (RFP) does not require a fixed and immutable contract with the winning bidder or preclude reasonable amendments. Rigid insistence on an unchanging contract would thwart the intent of Congress in adopting the Spectrum Act to provide states with a meaningful opportunity to adopt alternative means of satisfying the public safety communications objectives the Spectrum Act established. Finally, nothing in the Spectrum Act requires a Governor of a state to provide personal notice of the state’s decision to opt-out as opposed to acting through delegated authority.”

In a filing yesterday, FirstNet Colorado said, “We believe that the draft R&O does an excellent job at balancing the needs of the national effort with the ability of states to ensure that each has all options available to them to comply with statutory obligations. Any proposals to shorten the timelines in the Commission’s draft R&O or make the procedures and requirements more onerous would limit a state’s ability to prepare and file an alternative opt-out plan.”

“The draft R&O provides for an opt-out state to have 240 days from the date of its opt-out notification to the Commission to file an alternative state plan in the docketed proceeding established for that state. The 240 days includes 180 days to complete the request for proposal process and an additional 60 days to complete and submit the alternative plan in its entirety to the Commission and FirstNet,” the filing noted. “We have reviewed the ex parte communication recently filed by AT&T. FirstNet Colorado respectfully disagrees to shortening the time frames of the draft R&O. It is disconcerting to see AT&T use the excuse that ‘NPSBN has been long delayed’ as a basis to shorten the already short period that a state has to respond. The ‘long delay’ cannot be attributed to the states, and states should not lose a fair and reasonable time period to act in order to make up for this delay.”

FirstNet Colorado also said it remains “convinced that statutory rights of states would be better served if neither FirstNet nor AT&T were permitted to comment on any Commission filing made by a state seeking to opt out. These entities have a vested interest in making it more difficult for states to opt out, and are on record indicating as such. We believe there will be a serious credibility issue with any information provided by these entities objecting to a state’s request to opt out. However, FirstNet Colorado understands the Commission’s rationale as set forth in the draft R&O. If the Commission is not prepared to accept our position and not permit these entities to comment on opt out filings from states, we urge the Commission to make its position clearer by indicating that any comments filed by FirstNet or AT&T in connection with a state’s opt out filing be strictly limited factual information directly relevant to the technical parameters set by the Commission.”

FirstNet Colorado also said it “agrees with the Commission’s assessment that parties ‘should be allowed a limited means of correction’ to any errors in their alternative plan filings, given the ‘first-of-its-kind’ nature of this proceeding. We also agree that [the] amendment process will ‘benefit both the parties and the Commission’s understanding of the request, allowing for a full and thoughtful evaluation of the alternative plan.’”

“Applicants are entitled to receive notice and an opportunity to amend before an agency can reject a complex, technical, and lengthy application,” the filing continued. “In this regard, we also strongly disagree with the June 9, 2017 ex parte communication filed by AT&T, and we urge the Commission not to change the limited opportunity for an amendment process, which is necessary to afford states a fair, reasonable and meaningful opportunity to exercise its rights under the Act.”

“State plans including both a RAN and core would be consistent with the statute and would allow more efficient use of networks,” FirstNet Colorado also argued.

It added that “FirstNet must provide reasonable access to the Federal deployment plan for the state without arbitrary caps on access to files or limitations on access to native-format electronic files, which are crucial to develop comparative network coverage maps between the Federal plan and the state opt-out plans under consideration.”

“FirstNet’s recent ex parte communication with its attached matrix lends itself to a considerable amount of comment and debate – far more than the interested parties to this proceeding can be expected to do in the short period of time prior to the Commission’s June meeting,” FirstNet Colorado also said. “The final version of such a matrix will be a very important piece of the opt-out process. FirstNet Colorado believes this discussion is best suited to occur within the Commission’s proposal to have public comment on the policies that FirstNet and AT&T believe are relevant to the opt-out review.”- Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

Courtesy TRDaily