First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) Chief Executive Officer Mike Poth said today that the authority is working to address “misinformation” about its process and state plans, as FirstNet responded to a number of questions that have been raised recently about the terms of draft spectrum lease agreements, including termination penalties, spectrum lease fees, and charges for failing to meet subscriber milestones.
“Engaging with our stakeholders has and always will be central to everything we do at FirstNet. Our longstanding consultation and outreach program sets us apart from other organizations, companies, and entities that work with or do business with public safety,” Mr. Poth said in a blog posting. “Since delivering the State Plans, the FirstNet team has made itself available around the clock to answer questions, help clarify any misunderstandings states or territories may have, and address some of the misinformation about both the decision process and the State Plans themselves.”
He continued, “Given where we are today in the process – with 27 states and territories having opted in and two months still remaining for the others to make their decision – FirstNet is coordinating with the states and territories to ensure they have all the information they need to make the best decision for their public safety professionals and the residents who rely on them. We are also actively consulting with public safety agencies in opt-in states to implement their plans.”
“FirstNet is working closely with the states and territories through their single points of contact and governors’ offices to help them understand the many inputs and details they must factor into their decision-making process. In many cases, our efforts have addressed the mechanisms and risks associated with a governor’s decision to ‘opt-out’ and have the state build, operate, maintain, and improve the Radio Access Network (RAN) portion of the Network, including the Spectrum Manager Lease Agreement (SMLA) between FirstNet and an opt-out state or territory,” Mr. Poth said.
“As always, we welcome the opportunity to discuss these and other issues with states and territories now and throughout the process. To provide an additional, reliable information source, FirstNet will be highlighting common questions, with our responses, on our new ‘FirstNet Facts’ page. We will update this page regularly as state/territory and public safety questions come in. Please take a look at www.firstnet.gov/facts and share your feedback with the FirstNet team,” he added.
Today’s blog posting and the new web page came as some state officials and others have harshly criticized FirstNet for the terms of draft SMLAs, including their termination penalties, spectrum lease fees, and charges for failing to meet subscriber milestones.
For example, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R.) wrote governors this week asking them to hold off opting in to the FirstNet system to help press for information from federal officials on penalties and fees that states and territories could be liable for if they opt out (TR Daily, Oct. 25).
In signing an executive order last week establishing a committee to review the “regulatory and financial risks” to the state if it seeks to opt out of having AT&T build its RAN (TR Daily, Oct. 16), Mr. Sununu said the “fees and penalties appear to be arbitrary and primarily designed to deter states from opting out of FirstNet plans.”
Answers to a number of the questions on the “FirstNet Facts” page unveiled today respond to statements made by representatives of Rivada Networks LLC, which lost out to AT&T, Inc., for the 25-year FirstNet contract, state officials, and others that have been critical of FirstNet and AT&T.
For example, an answer to a question about what an SMLA is says, “FirstNet’s enabling legislation requires that upon successful completion of the approval process, an opt-out state must enter into a SMLA with FirstNet to access and use FirstNet’s licensed spectrum. The terms and conditions of the SMLA reflect legislative requirements, standard telecommunications industry regulations, and the critical role of the Network in supporting public safety communications.”
As to the terms of SMLAs, which include termination fees in the billions of dollars for some states, FirstNet says, “Building, operating, maintaining, and improving the RAN portion of the Nationwide Network is a substantial responsibility – a massive telecommunications infrastructure project that cannot fail our nation’s first responders. The SMLA is designed to make sure this critical public safety mission is achieved and that the network is sustainable for 25 years. The SMLA includes comparable terms and requirements to those that FirstNet’s network contractor is contractually bound and accountable for in opt-in states. In other words, we are asking no more of an opt-out state than what we are requiring of our NPSBN contractor to ensure the sustainability, interoperability, and security of the Network for public safety.”
Another answer addresses whether states would be penalized if they opt out. “By law, FirstNet must ensure the building, deployment, operation, and improvement of the NPSBN in every state and territory without further funding from Congress. To support this requirement, the Act provides FirstNet with a license to valuable spectrum and requires any revenue received by FirstNet from the use of the spectrum be reinvested solely in the Network. Under the NPSBN contract, FirstNet achieves the Act’s goal for a self-sustaining Network, in part, by receiving substantial and guaranteed payments from AT&T for use of the spectrum over the next 25 years,” FirstNet says.
“An opt-out state that seeks to use FirstNet’s spectrum must make payments in the amounts that would have been received for use of the spectrum in that state under the NPSBN contract,” FirstNet adds. “This ensures public safety across the country will continue to benefit from at least the same level of reinvestment in the network through the next 25 years as they would have under the contract.”
As to why opt-out states will be obligated to meet user-adoption targets, FirstNet says, “The power of the NPSBN will lie in first responders’ use of the network. Public safety adoption of the Network is essential to FirstNet accomplishing its mission as entrusted by Congress. Under the NPSBN contract, FirstNet’s partner is contractually committed to public safety subscribership levels, or adoption targets, on the Network, including the RAN. This commitment helps ensure that the NPSBN and the spectrum allocated by the Act are used by public safety subscribers as intended, at certain minimum levels.
“Under the SMLA, the state or territory’s contractor(s) is responsible for meeting the same public safety user adoption targets as those established under the NPSBN contract,” FirstNet adds. “Requiring the state’s RAN contractor(s) to meet the same targets preserves the fundamental goals of public safety use of the Network and the spectrum licensed to FirstNet at the levels guaranteed in the NPSBN contract.”
As to how a state RAN failure is addressed in an SMLA, FirstNet says, “Any failure of a state-built RAN over the next 25 years imposes considerable costs and risks on the nationwide network and public safety, impacting both the state and every other state. Under this scenario, FirstNet would incur the costs of reconstituting the RAN, including potentially finding another vendor, so that public safety users could continue to perform their life-saving missions with minimal disruptions to their communications. To mitigate the consequences of a RAN failure, the SMLA would require the state to pay the full cost of reconstituting the RAN in the state and operating it for the remainder of the agreement’s term. FirstNet has provided estimates of these potential costs to the states to promote transparency and increase their understanding of the significant responsibility of deploying, operating, and maintaining the RAN. These estimates reflect building and operating a new Band 14 RAN for the remainder of the SMLA term given the likely technical, operational, and financial complications that a new provider would face in reusing any components from a failed RAN and the significant ongoing RAN operating costs.”
In response to a question about whether states have more than 90 days to make an opt-out decision, FirstNet says, “No — the Act establishes that a Governor must decide within 90 days of receiving official notice of its State Plan from FirstNet whether to opt-out of the FirstNet State Plan and take on the responsibility of building, operating, maintaining, and upgrading the state RAN. FirstNet provided notice on Sept. 29 to the states, and their Governors now have until Dec. 28 to make their respective decisions. If a Governor elects to opt-out, the law provides 180 days for the state to develop an alternative RAN deployment plan and, pursuant to a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) order, 60 additional days to submit the alternative plan to the FCC for review and approval. The intent of the 180-day period is for the state to focus on the development of its RAN plan; it is not aimed at extending the decision process or introducing additional delays to delivering the Network to public safety.”
Rivada has suggested that governors opt out as a way of giving them more time to consider their options.
As to whether states can keep revenues for non-public safety broadband project purposes, FirstNet says, “No. As required by the Act, any revenue received by the opt-out state from the use of the Band 14 spectrum must be used for the state-built RAN and NPSBN only. The Act does not allow the opt-out state to retain or use excess revenue for any other purposes.”
In response to a question about the elements of the network, FirstNet says, “The Act identifies two separate components that initially comprise the NPSBN: the Core Network and the RAN. Under the Act, FirstNet is responsible for ensuring that all components of the NPSBN, including the Core Network and the RAN, are built, deployed, operated, and maintained, and, ultimately, that the NPSBN provides services to public safety entities throughout the nation. In particular, the Act made FirstNet the sole entity responsible for deploying a Core Network to serve public safety users.”
In another FirstNet development, the authority today announced in a “Federal Register” notice today the release of a final programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS) for the East Region, which includes Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia.—Paul Kirby, email@example.com