Urgent Matters

New Hampshire’s RFP for a public-safety LTE system: An act of rebellion or self defense?

by Donny Jackson
Dec 22, 2015

Is New Hampshire spinning its wheels by issuing an RFP for a statewide public-safety LTE network on spectrum it can't use today? Or, is there a method to the madness that may cause other states and territories to pursue similar strategies before they have to make an opt-out decision regarding FirstNet?

Maybe New Hampshire is fully committed to lead states and territories in a rebellion against FirstNet. If so, it has picked a unusual, understated way of “rallying the troops,” based on these words from John Stevens, the statewide interoperability coordinator who works with the New Hampshire department of safety,

“By no means are we looking at anything at this point in time as far as opting out of FirstNet. I saw that written in a previous article, and that’s not the intent at all,” Stevens said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “We’re just looking at the options available in the landscape. We continue to work on a daily basis with FirstNet to accomplish the FirstNet goals … In my responsibility, I just have to make sure that we discuss all options.”

And options are something that officials in many states and territories have been wanting for years, in relation to FirstNet.

If FirstNet’s RFP process is successful and results in states and territories getting the kind of public-safety broadband system they want at a price they can accept, then their governors happily can accept FirstNet’s plan for their jurisdiction.

But the alternatives are no easy—and many state officials are being pressured to provide their governors with choices.

Right now, if a governor doesn’t like FirstNet’s proposed state plan, the only option is to go through the opt-out process that is permitted by law. But the opt-out process is extremely difficult, with timelines that are challenging at the least and arguably unrealistic—most notably, the stipulation that calls for an opt-out state to complete its RFP process in a 180-day window.

Meanwhile, a question that state officials have been asking privately has been, “How does a governor know whether FirstNet’s state plan is a good deal?” Such a public-safety broadband network has never been deployed before, so there are no “comparables,” to steal a word from the real-estate industry.

For about a year, many state representatives repeatedly stated that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) should let states use their federal planning money to explore what it would cost to deploy a network within their borders.

Proponents of this approach said that it not only could help states better appreciate the challenge facing FirstNet, but it might uncover some business-model options that FirstNet had not considered. Meanwhile, critics of the proposal said that NTIA should not allow planning funding to be used for this purpose, because it could result in a waste of funds and/or a situation where federal funds essentially were used to undermine a federal program—FirstNet.

NTIA did not allow the planning grants to be used in this manner, leaving many state officials to wonder whether they would have to advise their governors simply to accept the FirstNet plan. Of course, that’s not the kind of choice that many of them were tasked to find.

Sources indicated that some states have considered issuing a request for information (RFI) to get some idea what the industry landscape looks like. However, others have argued that an RFI is not much more effective than having a vendor’s salesman talk to the governor—some interesting information exchanged, but no one is obligated to stand behind anything they say.

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Discuss this Blog Entry 2

tronholio (not verified)
on Dec 22, 2015

At the absolute minimum, I would call this "due diligence".

on Dec 23, 2015

It';s to bad the Firstnet leadership took off running in the wrong direction with the wrong goal. They had the option to work with the states and provided them guidance and standards to build out state managed systems; but decided on 'we are in charge and we will build a massive system whether they want it or not' approach. Maybe its time for the states to have their congressional representation step in and 'fix' the Firstnet approach.

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