DENVER – Public safety representatives at the APCO 2017 show here yesterday afternoon expressed skepticism about AT&T, Inc.’s offerings as the network partner of the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet). During a session on state plans, a representative from Washington state said that the rural coverage promised by AT&T “is exceedingly optimistic.” He asked how states that want to opt out of having AT&T build their radio access network (RAN) can compete with the FirstNet state plan when seeking approval for an alternative state plan if the FirstNet plan doesn’t have realistic deployment scenarios.
“How do you compare fiction with fiction?” he asked officials from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which is charged with reviewing alternative state plans for authority to secure a spectrum capacity lease agreement with FirstNet and for grant eligibility.
Marsha MacBride, NTIA’s associate administrator-Office of Public Safety Communications, said that NTIA will look at technical and budgeting provisions in alternative state plans to see if promised coverage can realistically be achieved, just as FirstNet will monitor AT&T to ensure that it meets its obligations under its 25-year contract with FirstNet.
The audience member from Washington state suggested that he would likely recommend that his state opt in to FirstNet, but he said that “we have to come up with a reasonable alternative for it.”
Steve Rauter, executive director of the Western Will County, Ill., Communication Center, also complained about AT&T. “The reputation of AT&T is not good in my state,” he said. “It’s going to take a long way to get our trust in AT&T based on current past performance. I’m not sure how to resolve that.” He said a request for proposals (RFP) is ready to be issued by his state to seek alternatives. But, Mr. Rauter also said, “We’re probably going to opt in.”
“Nobody’s required to buy FirstNet’s service,” Ms. MacBride noted. “It’s up to AT&T to prove that they can and will and should have their business.”
Mr. Rauter also said he was concerned about data interoperability. “I’ve never heard a good explanation of how interoperability’s going to work for data,” he said. He asked if non-FirstNet users could use the FirstNet app store.
Dave Buchanan, FirstNet’s director-consultation, said they can’t. He also said that FirstNet has heard complaints about AT&T. But he said their FirstNet offerings won’t be exactly the same as those they have offered on their commercial network, noting they are planning additional coverage and other provisions. “I would encourage you to give us a chance, give AT&T a chance, to introduce the solution to you when and if your state decides to opt in,” Mr. Buchanan said.
Also during the session, NTIA officials detailed the agency’s plan for reviewing alternative state plans, which must be approved first by the FCC, including any misconceptions in the public safety community.
“A lot of states think that FirstNet is going to do all the testing for you if you’re an opt-out state, and we’ve been told that probably is not true. You’re going to have to run your own testing program. … And that’s a big deal,” said Carolyn Dunn, director of the State Alternative Plan Program (SAPP) at NTIA. She also noted that states must show how they “can achieve the same coverage and capacity as FirstNet will achieve by the end of five years,” including the same rural milestones and overall coverage.
And she pointed out that RAN deployment will likely move more quickly in opt-in states. So states that want to opt out “need to be prepared to come online at … a comparable service level to FirstNet … to make sure that you have that interoperability.”
NTIA is hoping to release the final SAPP guidance soon, a process has taken longer than expected due to changes in the administration, said Ms. MacBride.
“I hope it’s not too long after the state plans are released, but certainly before any opt-in or opt-out decision has to be made under the statute,” she said. Final state plans are scheduled for release in mid-September, and governors would have 90 days after that to decide whether they want to opt out.- Paul Kirby, firstname.lastname@example.org