New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R.) has written to governors asking them to hold off opting in to the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) system and to help press for information from federal officials on penalties and fees that states and territories could be liable for if they opt in. Last week, Mr. Sununu signed an executive order establishing a committee to review the “regulatory and financial risks” to the state if it seeks to opt out of having AT&T, Inc., FirstNet’s network partner, build its radio access network (RAN) (TR Daily, Oct. 16).
“New Hampshire’s Statewide Interoperability Executive Committee (SIEC) has determined from a technical standpoint that an opt-out of FirstNet is far and away our best option, as evidenced by their unanimous 15-0 vote. The State must nevertheless conduct a thorough review of the financial and regulatory viability of Rivada’s opt-out plan,” the governor said in a statement. “As part of this review, we will seek clarification of certain proposed fees, as well as clarification of penalties that may be imposed by FirstNet if an opt-out were to fail. These fees and penalties appear to be arbitrary and primarily designed to deter states from opting out of FirstNet plans. That is why I am calling on key officials at the federal level to assist us as we examine the numbers released by FirstNet and to ensure that states are being afforded their right to make their decisions with correct information.”
The governor added, “New Hampshire is proudly on the forefront of national safety infrastructure. In the coming days I will be sending a letter to my fellow Governors which will encourage all states considering their options to pause and lean on us as New Hampshire seeks clarifications and answers that every state can benefit from.”
The New Hampshire SIEC voted to recommend that the state opt out of FirstNet and contract with Rivada Networks LLC for a contract for an opt-out plan (TR Daily, Oct. 10).
In a letter to governors dated Monday, Mr. Sununu said he believes “there are some very important questions that still need to be answered, and I urge each of you to hold off on making a final decision while we seek further information from Federal officials.”
“I strongly encourage each of you to pause and work with us as we seek further answers from Federal officials,” he added. “We are hoping to complete our due diligence by November 21st. Whether you ultimately decide to opt in or opt out, I believe that we will all benefit by a collective insistence that each state receives the information it needs to make a fully informed decision.”
Mr. Sununu also said he has been told that the House communications and technology subcommittee plans to hold a Nov. 1 hearing on FirstNet.
Governors have until Dec. 28 to announce if they plan to seek to opt out. Twenty-five states and two territories have already opted in to the FirstNet network.
As an example of the potential penalties and fees that states could face, a summary of a draft spectrum management lease agreement (SMLA) prepared by FirstNet for Vermont said that if the SMLA were terminated “for cause” before the end of the 25-year term, the state would have “to pay to the Government the entire cost of reconstituting a Band 14 RAN in the State as determined by FirstNet. …” The maximum termination payment would be $173 million if the agreement were terminated within 900 days of Vermont’s governor getting its state plan from FirstNet. Vermont also would be obligated to pay $6.075 million in spectrum network capacity fees to FirstNet over the 25-year life of the SMLA. The SMLA also includes public safety adoption milestones.
The draft SMLA for California stipulates a $15 billion termination fee, according to a disclosure at a recent board meeting of the California First Responders Network (CalFRN).
In response to Gov. Sununu’s letter, a FirstNet spokesperson said today, “We look forward to continuing to work with Governor Sununu to answer his questions about the state plan as New Hampshire closely examines the risks of Rivada’s opt-out plan. And we will continue to work closely with all of the governors and their teams to help ensure their first responders get the highest quality, most reliable broadband network that will serve them for many years to come.”
Asked for comment, AT&T referred TR Daily to FirstNet.
Meanwhile, Verizon Communications, Inc., reminded public safety agencies today that even if their states opt in to FirstNet, they can still use the services of carriers such as Verizon, which is building a dedicated public safety core and offering priority service now and preemption soon.
In a release, Don Brittingham, Verizon’s vice president-public safety policy, said, “There is always a lot of buzz when a new state announces their decision to ‘opt-in’ to FirstNet. However, first responders must understand they don’t need to change their current communications solution just because their state decides to opt-in (or opt-out) to FirstNet. In fact, FirstNet does not require public safety agencies to use the FirstNet solution, even if their state opts-in to FirstNet. Police departments, local governments, fire stations can make their own choice when it comes to communications solutions and services regardless of their state’s decision. In short, if you like your provider, you can keep your provider.” —Paul Kirby, email@example.com