Prospective FirstNet Users Urged to Negotiate Contract Terms

ORLANDO – Prospective users of the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) system being built by AT&T, Inc., should negotiate rates and other terms and not simply take what they are offered, an attorney advised today. “This is an opportunity to be creative,” Alan Tilles, chairman of the telecommunications department at Shulman Rogers Gandal Pordy & Ecker P.A. who represents many public safety agencies, said during a session at the IWCE show here this morning. “Don’t just take what’s laid before you.”

“You have the ability to negotiate more than just price,” Mr. Tilles stressed to representatives of state and local governments.  “You should be worried with coverage. … And that is both outdoor and indoor.” Mr. Tilles advised state and local officials to consider proposing an arrangement where they offer access to public infrastructure, including cell sites and rights of way, in exchange for more favorable terms.

Earlier during the session, Guerdy Charles, a regional director for AT&T’s FirstNet program, said that his company wants to make it simple for prospective users to sign up for FirstNet service, including by offering a two-page agreement. But Mr. Tilles said that “there’s no way that everything that I’m worried about in a public safety radio system can be taken care of in two pages.”

“Negotiate what you need and be very clear,” he said, adding that some municipalities are not even aware that they have the option to not sign up for AT&T’s service. He advised state and local governments to consider issuing requests for proposals (RFPs) just as they would for any other radio service, saying that a number of municipalities plan to do that. That will help them choose between the AT&T service and other offers, such as Verizon Communications, Inc.’s public safety broadband service, he said.

A considerable amount of the discussion during the session, including in questions from audience members, involved details of the priority regime that will be used for the FirstNet system.

Mr. Charles said that primary users will be police, fire, and emergency medical services, emergency management, and 911 centers, and “extended primary” users will include hospitals, utilities, and transportation and public works departments. He said that volunteer firefighters and auxiliary police will be treated as primary users.

Mr. Charles was asked how the priority levels would work. He said control of the three priority levels would be the responsibility of the incident command or “primary agency” in an area. For example, he said, an “extended primary” user could be “uplifted to priority status instantly at the click of a button.” “We have nothing to do with it,” he said of AT&T.

Mr. Charles also detailed the various purchasing contracts that agencies can use to sign up for AT&T’s FirstNet service, and he said they can also negotiate customized contracts. Mr. Charles also acknowledged the importance of coverage to communities. “We do not want to sell you FirstNet services until you have the coverage that you need,” he said. “We have already told different jurisdictions across the country, ‘Your tower will not be up for 12 months, your tower will not be up yet, do not sign up yet. We will be here for you.’ So coverage is absolutely paramount, in-building solutions are absolutely paramount. And we are going to work with you to make that happen.”

“We are doing an extensive coverage build,” he added. “We are way ahead of schedule.”

Rosa Akhtarkhavari, chief information officer for the city of Orlando, said that government officials here are waiting to see the FirstNet terms in various purchasing contracts. “What are the terms that we can further negotiate?” she asked. “We are looking at all of the options. … We are very aware that we don’t have to move.” She said the city has challenged AT&T on how quickly it can build the necessary infrastructure in the region. —Paul Kirby,

Courtesy TRDaily