Urgent Matters

FirstNet’s bidding deadline has passed—what we know now

by Donny Jackson

Table of Contents:

Jun 02, 2016

FirstNet provided only a cryptic statement as Tuesday's bid deadline passed, but it was enough to provide public safety and key decision makers with some key information as they pursue future plans. 

 “The deadline for proposals has now closed. We are moving forward in the evaluation process. We are excited to have met this major RFP milestone and remain on track to award in November.”

This cryptic statement was all that FirstNet provided on Tuesday afternoon, hours after the deadline passed for offeror teams to submit proposals to build and maintain a nationwide public-safety broadband network. It was rather disappointing, particularly after FirstNet revealed that it received “multiple” capability statements from potential bidders two month. My hope was we would receive at least a similar amount of detail when FirstNet received the actual bids to its request for proposals (RFP).

That was not the case, but it was not a complete surprise. Several veterans of federal procurements had told me that Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) would prohibit FirstNet from releasing information that would provide any indication about the number of proposals submitted. Some of them were surprised at the reference to multiple capability statements being submitted, but they noted that these entities were under no obligation to make a binding proposal, so FirstNet had extra latitude at this stage.

FirstNet CEO Mike Poth wrote a blog that confirms that FirstNet was limited in its statement on Tuesday by the FAR.

“FirstNet decided to follow Federal procurement regulations for this RFP,” Poth said in the blog. “We did so because it sets an established, proven process for the conduct of complex procurements like this one. It also ensures that the proposal and evaluation process is fair and competitive, and provides a level playing field for all potential offerors. 

“The rules restrict our ability to publicly discuss source selection information during the evaluation phase. This applies to topics such as the number of proposals and who submitted them, among other things. Although we are an open, stakeholder driven organization, this is the only way to ensure the integrity of the procurement process.”

But the key aspect of FirstNet’s statement is that organization is “moving forward in the evaluation process.” The only way FirstNet can conduct an evaluation process is if there is at least one bid to evaluate. That is a big step, as public-safety officials who remember the failed 700 MHz D Block auction of 2008—when the FCC received no qualifying bids to team with public safety on a nationwide network—will attest.

One offeror team is being led by Rivada Networks, which was the only entity to publicly acknowledge that it made a proposal to FirstNet. Furthermore, a Rivada Networks spokesman stated that company officials believe that its bid is “100% compliant” with the terms laid out in the FirstNet RFP.

While all of us on the outside would love to know more about the identities of the prime bidders and their offeror-team partners—no single company can fulfill the FirstNet mission alone—just knowing that there is an offeror team that believes it proposal addresses all aspects of the RFP is significant.

That’s because the FirstNet RFP requires the selected contractor to make annual payments to FirstNet for 25 years totaling at least $5.625 billion. In other words, a fully compliant bid should mean that FirstNet should be able to assure its long-term financial sustainability—something many doubted could happen, given that Congress dedicated $7 billion in funding to FirstNet to build a network that likely will cost at least five times that amount.

This means that it is time for decision makers at all levels to prepare in earnest for a world with an actual FirstNet system, not just hype.

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