Public Safety Advocate: Opting In or Out?
Since the U.S. Federal Claims Court it has made the following statement via Business Wire: “Rivada Networks announced today that it will work directly with the states and territories that may want to exercise their right to opt-out of FirstNet’s federal solution.” Further into the press release it also stated, “FirstNet has made its choice. Now it is time for states to make theirs. Those that stand by idly will be forced into a federal solution that may or may not suit their needs or budgets. We look forward to working with the states to ensure that they receive a network equal to the promise made to public safety when FirstNet was created.”
Even during the period when the court had the Rivada ruling under consideration, Rivada has continued on its quest to convince states to opt out. Rivada has assembled an interesting assortment of folks to assist in its pursuit of opt-out states. It starts with Karl Rove, a well-known member of the Bush administration who is reportedly visiting most if not all of the states led by a Republican governor. This effort is augmented by others including Chris Moore who retired as a Police Chief from San Jose, Calif. Since the court has ruled in favor of the government and FirstNet, Rivada is redoubling its efforts to convince states to opt out in favor of Rivada’s offering.
Rivada has decided to cast the opt-in decision as one in which the state is at the mercy of the federal government and may not end up with a Public Safety system that suits its needs. On the other side, I question whether a company that is not a network operator and to my knowledge operates few if any cellular networks, is a viable alternative for the states to consider. As my readers know, I recommend what I consider to be an opt-in-plus approach. The plus is made up of further negotiations with the winning bidder and FirstNet that would go beyond the opt-in state plan and provide a methodology for the state and jurisdictions within the state to add value to the network over time.
In the meantime, before the contract is officially awarded, outside pressure is being brought to bear on the states. I thought it might be a worthwhile endeavor to suggest some questions I believe should be asked by each state, territory, and tribal nation. It is only fair to the governor of each state to have all of the information available to make an intelligent decision. When I say intelligent decision, I do not mean one that fits with the party affiliation of the governor or his/her staff, I mean the decision that is best for the Public Safety agencies within the state going forward. Below are a number of questions I would ask or have my FirstNet team ask if I were the governor of a state. I have categorized them by subject matter for ease of this discussion. Continue reading
FirstNet Back on Track (?) The Public Safety community, FirstNet, and AT&T are all pleased that the U.S. Federal Claims judge ruled against Rivada. The court denied Rivada’s contention that it was wrongfully excluded from being moved into the final competitive range of the process. The judge also granted additional motions to both the U.S. Department of Justice and AT&T but these motions have not been released and may not be since many of the proceedings have been sealed.
Obviously, there were different reactions to the news. Mike Poth, CEO of FirstNet, issued a press release in which he stated, “We are pleased with the Court’s decision. This is a positive development for FirstNet and the public safety community. FirstNet intends to move expeditiously to finalize the contract for the nationwide public safety broadband network.” The statement received from Rivada, the loser in the court decision, was a tweet that stated, “U.S. Court of Fed Claims motion denied. Considering appeal & are ramping up with States that want option to exercise opt-out right.” I am sure Rivada Mercury will make additional statements about the ruling but at the moment it appears as though FirstNet will move quickly forward with AT&T, the only bidder rumored to have made it to the final stage of the RFP selection process and that also filed in support of the federal government’s activities to defend the RFP bidder selection process.
Where do we go from here? I believe that if at all possible FirstNet will make an award to the final bidder in a matter of weeks if not days, and that will start the six-month phase one clock ticking. At the end of this phase of the project, the FirstNet Partner has to provide the states with the plans it and FirstNet will have developed for providing coverage to each state. The clock will then start for the states to evaluate the proposal and decide they will opt into or out of the FirstNet plan. Opting in will mean the FirstNet Partner will build out the network in that state. Opting out will mean the state will have to begin a fairly tedious process of convincing the FCC its state plan is fully compatible with the FirstNet network, then dealing with the NTIA to try to secure a grant to help defray the cost of its build-out, and finally negotiating a spectrum lease with FirstNet.
This is where it gets interesting. FirstNet, the potential partner, and many others have weighed in about a state opting in or out. Regular readers of my columns know I am an opt-in proponent because I believe opting in, but negotiating a way to add onto the network, is the best of both worlds. It allows the FirstNet Partner to build out in a state and then enables them to work together toward the goal of increasing coverage where needed over time. There are multiple ways these increases can be funded as I am sure we will all soon discover. If a state opts out it will get what is promised by the opt-out contractor, probably without a provision to add to the initial coverage.
Some states have supposedly been promised they will be able to use the secondary income from the network for whatever the state wants to do with the reported major “windfall.” The first problem with this is that all of this secondary revenue except for funds needed to maintain the state’s portion of the FirstNet network must be turned over to FirstNet. The second is that many of the states that have been promised big paydays will find that if they opt out and choose a vendor other than the FirstNet Partner the promised payday will either not come at all or be a long time coming.
One of the states that has already chosen Rivada as its opt-out partner if it chooses to opt-out is interesting in that our research shows there is not a single county within this state that can generate sufficient Public Safety revenue or any secondary spectrum revenue to support a network. Therefore, depending on how the contract between the state and Rivada is written, the state could be on the hook for the shortfall year after year. While this state is the only one so far that has awarded a contract IF it decides to opt out, several other states share the same dismal outlook for generating enough revenue to pay for the build-out, operation, and network upgrades over a 30-year period. Continue reading
While We Wait for FirstNet Revision 2. A few years ago I wrote about how Public Safety could begin to prepare for the addition of FirstNet to its communications capabilities. Since then we have seen more delays and have learned more about what the first responder community wants and needs as well as what many states are thinking about the FirstNet deployment.
On March 3, 2017, the U.S. Federal Court heard oral arguments from both sides of the case. FirstNet was represented by federal attorneys assigned to the case and I am sure Rivada Mercury showed up with a sizable contingent as well. According to an article in Urgent Communications , Rivada Mercury says it expects a ruling within the next two weeks. There is little information available on what went on in the closed hearing so I am hopeful Rivada’s estimate on the timing is correct. It still seems like yet another long wait.
I will preface this next section with the disclaimer that I am not an attorney nor do I pretend to be one, but I am both puzzled and troubled that I am hearing from people I know and trust within a number of states and who will remain as “sources” that a big-name member of a past President’s administration has been visiting with governors of the same party and trying to convince them to opt out of FirstNet. It is merely speculation on my part, but I believe this person is working on behalf of Rivada Mercury. It seems inappropriate to me that this activity is occurring during the time the RFP process is being challenged in Federal Court by the same company. Continue reading
FirstNet’s March Madness: As I write the first draft of this week’s Public Safety Advocate, I realize it is March 1, the date the Department of Justice (DOJ) apparently agreed it would wait for before making an RFP award for FirstNet. The court will be holding its oral arguments session this Friday and at some point after that, unless the court requires more information, a decision regarding the issue of Rivada being excluded from the final phase of the contract review will be decided.
If it is decided in favor of the federal government, it is possible an award could be made soon after the verdict is announced. However, if Rivada indicates it might take the matter to the next level of the justice system, the feds may feel they have to, once again, wait for that to play out. It is my belief that if Rivada pursues the next legal steps, the outcome, regardless of who wins, will be dismal for Rivada. I refer you back to a previous Public Safety Advocate in which I predicted that even if Rivada wins it will lose because Public Safety, the vendor community, and many state elected officials are upset about the current delay. More delays would only make it worse.
If Rivada wins the day, there will be another delay while those reviewing the contract for the federal government will have to consider Rivada’s RFP response and weigh the response against what is believed to be the only other RFP that has been moved to the final stage. After that is completed, there should be an award soon after and, hopefully, the losing entity will respect the final outcome and not cause any more delays to the process. Continue reading
Five-Plus Years of FirstNet! FirstNet celebrates its five-year anniversary this month. The law that created FirstNet was signed by the President of the United States on February 22, 2017. However, the work really began when President Bush signed a law in 2006 requiring TV stations to vacate channels 52-69 no later than February 2008. Also in 2006, there was a series of discussions regarding the creation of a Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN) and in 2007, the FCC carved out 10 MHz (5X5) of the 700-MHz spectrum being vacated by TV stations, and then designated another 10 MHz of spectrum, known as the D-block to be bid on during auctions. The winner would work with Public Safety to create a private/public partnership to build out a nationwide broadband network.
Those driving this series of events included Morgan O’Brien, co-founder of Nextel, and Chief Harlin McEwen (Ret), who quickly became the champion of the Public Safety broadband network. In 2007, the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST), a non-profit corporation, was chosen by the FCC to hold the Public Safety broadband license. Chief McEwen was Chairman of the PSST and the board of directors was made up of representatives from fifteen national Public Safety organizations. When the D-block failed to be won at auction, the Public Safety community and the PSST worked with Congress to add the D-block to the 10 MHz of existing Public Safety spectrum to create a 10X10-MHz nationwide system.
This idea was opposed by several commercial network operators that had missed out on the 700-MHz spectrum and wanted the D-block to be re-auctioned without Public Safety restrictions. They were very vocal in their opposition, created several websites, and filed reams of documents with the FCC trying to prove Public Safety did not need more than 10 MHz of spectrum to meet its broadband needs. This opposition led to the creation of the Public Safety Alliance (PSA), which represented every form of the Public Safety community and included organizations such as the national association of governors and of mayors and had the support of many vendors within the wireless community as well as the two largest network operators.
It took the PSST, the PSA, APCO, NPSTC, and many other organizations until 2011 to gain traction with members of Congress and to convince some within the FCC that Public Safety would need access to more than the 10 MHz of spectrum already allocated. Tests were run simulating real-world capacity requirements using a variety of scenarios on a three-cell Public Safety LTE network that had been deployed by Motorola in Alameda County, CA. Those opposing the addition of the D-block were using the standard method of calculating commercial network capacity, using nineteen sites, each with three sectors. They assumed interference was common across all cell sectors, and then calculated the amount of traffic that could be handled over the network.
The issue came down to the fact that most local incidents occur within a rather small geographic area but require a large number of Public Safety personnel usually including law, fire, and EMS. This means capacity of the network needs to be calculated on a cell-sector basis as opposed to a set of wide-area network calculations. Remember too that LTE broadband provides faster data rates from the cell site down to field devices than in the upward direction. During an incident, the need for data and video services will be in both directions, to and from the incident, therefore capacity and speed of both the up and down portions of the network need to be put into perspective. These tests and the subsequent report provided to the FCC and members of Congress showed the Public Safety community needed access to a full 20 MHz (10X10 MHz) of spectrum, not only the 10 MHz already assigned. Continue reading
Congress Has a Problem Called The T-Band!
The T-band is in the 470–512-MHz portion of the radio spectrum and was part of the allocation for UHF TV channels 14-20. However, there was a shortage of land mobile radio (LMR) channels for Public Safety use in many major metropolitan areas. After much political wrangling, the T-band was made available for use by Public Safety and commercial LMR systems in FCC docket 18-261 in 1971. Each of the eleven metro areas was permitted to use some but not all of the TV channels, depending on what was already in service in each area. Since then, Public Safety agencies have made extensive use of this spectrum in these eleven major metro areas (Boston, Chicago, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Washington DC, and parts of Virginia and Maryland, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York/Northwest New Jersey, Philadelphia, and San Francisco/Oakland). Each metro area was assigned one or more TV channels (6 MHz each) for use. However, in the same act that created FirstNet, signed into law in 2012, Congress required Public Safety (but not the commercial systems) to vacate this spectrum by 2022/2023.
At the time the bill that created FirstNet was being drafted, and then in order to get it passed, the bill was folded into the Middle-Class Tax Relief Act of 2012. Many in Congress made it clear they expected Public Safety to “give back” spectrum in exchange for the “D” block. In several of the bills introduced by Congress, various portions of the spectrum were mentioned. The most onerous was one bill that would have required Public Safety to give back all spectrum it occupied from 150 MHz to 470 MHz. This was quashed when the Public Safety Alliance met with some of the staffers and explained that this spectrum was not only allocated to Public Safety but to thousands of other types of radio systems as well.
The final bill that designated the give-back of the T-band was introduced on a Tuesday and passed that same Friday, precluding much discussion or many objections from the Public Safety community. Unfortunately, those who wrote this portion of the bill did not fully understand several things:
1) In addition to Public Safety in some of the cities, commercial LMR systems are also in use. These were not addressed by Congress nor were they required to vacate the spectrum.
2) The T-band allocation is for 1, 2, or 3 channels in each city but not for all of the spectrum, so there are TV channels on either side of the LMR allocations. This makes auctioning this spectrum for broadband use next to impossible and certainly deflates the value of the spectrum.
3) The auction would not be scheduled until 2021 and Public Safety would have to vacate the spectrum within two years. This is not a realistic amount of time to relocate large communications systems from one portion of spectrum to another (assuming there was somewhere else to build these systems). Any Public Safety-grade system takes a while to build and test to ensure that it is, in fact, Public Safety-grade.
4) The NTIA was the agency designated to administer grants for the cost of relocation but there are no guidelines for what costs would be covered and how soon the funds would be available.
5) There appears to have been a misconception in Congress by some that the FirstNet system would be able to accommodate all voice traffic in the T-band, even though at that point in time there were no voice standards for either push-to-talk or off-network communications for LTE. Continue reading
FirstNet Applications: Two weeks ago I wrote about the FirstNet network, then last week I wrote about the devices Public Safety will be using or could be using on the FirstNet system. Each of these posts prompted some great comments and some really good questions, all of which I tried to answer. The next piece to the puzzle is the suite of applications that will become available and will provide the types of information, data, and video services that are needed by the Public Safety community. While the applications are one of three very important elements of the network, and some say the most important part, there are still the issues of pricing for devices, pricing for service usage, the amount of data that can be used on the network, and other factors that will all need to be in place when the network becomes ready for prime time.
Applications are the focus of this week’s Advocate but with the caveat that my data sets for both the network and devices are stronger than my data set for applications. Therefore, I will not try to identify the “killer” applications for law enforcement, fire, EMS, inspections, and other field duties, but I will say that applications in all of these categories and more are needed. What I will do is try to provide some insight into the way the applications might be developed and how to have them integrated into the field to provide effective results.
Many departments already have experience with software applications in the field but in most cases it is dispatch to Mobile Data Terminals (MDTs) in a vehicle rather than to a person in the field. Data has been used by Public Safety for a long time. Motorola, MDI, and others offered data devices and services over LMR channels, Panasonic started building wireless data modems into its Toughbooks in the 1990s, and we were working with Public Safety agencies that were making use of RAM Mobile Data, ARDIS, and Cellular Digital Packet Data (CDPD), which AT&T, Bell Atlantic, New England Bell, GTE Mobile Net, and others were pushing (and later Verizon as it rolled up some of the baby bells and others). Data rates were available from 8 Kbps to 19.2 Kbps and departments were using data to send out additional information on dispatched calls and to run license plates and people through the databases. Continue reading