Vermont Commission Recommends State Opt into FirstNet

The Vermont Public Safety Broadband Network Commission voted today to recommend that Gov. Phil Scott (R.) opt into the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) system. “The commission’s focus has remained on ensuring the best service and coverage for our public safety community,” said commission Chair Terry LaValley, who is the state’s FirstNet single point of contact (SPOC). “The establishment of a single, interoperable network for public safety nationwide means Vermont’s first responders will have access to a reliable, highly secure and technologically robust cellular network. The commission believes taking full advantage of the federal solution, rather than partnering to build our own network, will best serve the long-term needs of Vermont public safety.”

“This recommendation comes after a lot of careful work on the part of the commission,” said Mr. LaValley. “The commission critically reviewed the draft and final proposals submitted by FirstNet/AT&T and worked with their representatives for specific coverage improvements. The commission also secured the services of an independent consultant, Televate, to conduct a technical review of the plan and considered opt-out proposals submitted through a competitive RFP process. Our ongoing contact with the first responder community helped shape the commission’s coverage objectives outlined in Vermont’s formal data submissions to FirstNet.”

“In addition to the opt-in recommendation from Televate, the commission also reviewed the opt-in recommendation from an independent review by the Coeur Business Group, which was contracted by the Agency of Digital Services to analyze the opt-in/opt-out options,” according to a news release. “Commission members also received a financial risks opinion from the State Treasurer’s Office that concluded that opt-in was in the best interest of the State of Vermont and an endorsement for opt-in by the International Association of Fire Chiefs, who represent 12,000 fire and emergency services leaders across the country.”

Among the reasons cited for the opt-in recommendation were the immediate service that AT&T, Inc., FirstNet’s network partner, could provide; pricing, which it the commission hopes will be driven down by competition; AT&T’s commitment to expand coverage; and the fact that Vermont will assume no financial cost for constructing its radio access network (RAN).

A commission member, Ron Kumetz, assistant fire chief in Alburgh, Vt., who represents the Vermont State Firefighters’ Association on the panel, abstained from the vote.

“The Vermont State Firefighters’ Association has previously expressed displeasure with the adversarial nature of the relationship between FirstNet and the states,” he said in a written statement. “FirstNet negotiated a secret contract with AT&T which is not available to the states and which stipulates no contractual obligation on the part of AT&T toward the individual states based on the state plans. In effect, AT&T can promise anything but deliver nothing with no (verifiable) consequences whatsoever. We cannot fathom signing a contract to buy a new car with no warranty so why would we enter into an arrangement for a multi-million dollar broadband network with similar terms?”

He added, “FirstNet’s congressional mandate is to build the best possible network for first responders[;] however they seem to have misunderstood and instead jumped on the bandwagon of creating a single vendor one size fits all network with a corporate partner who admits that they have little experience with public safety networks.”

Stephen Whitaker, a Vermont resident and open government advocate who is a party in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking FirstNet records (TR Daily, Oct. 6), also criticized the commission’s decision. He told the commission during its meeting today that it should delay its decision until it had time to study the Televate report and a report on the independent review. He also said that the commission should wait for responses from FirstNet, AT&T, and others to questions posed by Rep. Peter Welch (D., Vt.) in the wake of a recent House hearing (TR Daily, Nov. 1). “It’s really an abuse of the process, and the fact that you all are tolerating it is unconscionable,” Mr. Whitaker said. “You all are just rolling over.”

In a news release, Mr. Whitaker said, “Perhaps most galling is the pretense of due diligence, and that the Commission was obviously swayed in its decision by the threatened so-called FirstNet termination fees in the draft SMLA,” referring to the spectrum manager lease agreement (SMLA) that says Vermont could have to pay up to $173 million if it opted out and then terminated the lease. “We like our seafood in New England, and today the Broadband Commission feasted on Red Herring, because the so-called draft Spectrum Manager Lease Agreement[s] were designed to frighten states enough so they won’t opt-out, and FirstNet officials have shamefully admitted as much in front of Congress.”

At the Nov. 1 House hearing, FirstNet Chief Executive Officer Mike Poth stressed that FirstNet will work to “minimize” the impact on states and first responders of opt-out states that fail to fulfill the terms of SMLAs. He also said that the agreements provided to states are only “working draft” documentsIn other FirstNet news, the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) Friday issued a long-awaited request for proposals for an alternative FirstNet plan.

“California’s release of this RFP should not be interpreted that California has made the decision to Opt-Out of the state plan developed by AT&T and FirstNet,” the document stressed. “The RFP will have several activities that will be aligned with the Opt-Out procedure mandated by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) under the US Department of Commerce.”

“Simply put, we are committed to providing all relevant information to the Governor for his decision,” Pat Mallon, who is California’s FirstNet SPOC and assistant director-public safety communications in Cal OES, told TR Daily in an e-mail. “This RFP is not a decision to OPT OUT, rather an effort to ensure due diligence and obtain the best solution for California.”

State and local officials in California have been critical of aspects of the FirstNet state plan and the potential $15 billion termination fee included in the draft SMLA that it received.

Thirty one states and two territories have opted into FirstNet. Governors have until Dec. 28 to make opt-out decisions.- Paul Kirby,

Courtesy TRDaily