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?

By issuing an RFP, New Hampshire can get a level of detail it never could require in an RFI, including monetary figures and business-model information. More important, it can get a binding commitment from a vendor, instead of a vague assertion or an empty promise.

It is somewhat like an individual talking about making a major purchase, such as a car or a house. The negotiating process is very different if the buyer has a preapproved loan versus one who does not. If the buyer has another written offer for something comparable, there is an entirely different level of discussion.

For a state like New Hampshire, going through the RFP process likely will require a significant amount of effort and human resources, even though the stated purpose—a state-owned LTE network—might never be realized.

But the RFP exercise could help the state in ways that may not be immediately obvious to outsiders. If no reasonable bid is offered, state officials could gain new appreciation about the difficult challenge facing FirstNet. If the state gets a bid, it has a comparison point to the state plan that FirstNet eventually puts on the table.

Meanwhile, if FirstNet’s RFP process falls apart, having a bid in hand theoretically would let New Hampshire move quickly to build a network in its state, if that opportunity presents itself. In addition, if the state likes the bid it receives for the RFP, it would be better positioned to act upon an opt-out decision by the governor, because the difficult logistical hurdle of the 180-day RFP window would have been cleared.

Some observers have questioned whether New Hampshire RFP represents a step toward challenging the fundamentals of FirstNet—notably, FirstNet’s spectrum rights and/or the ability for states to gain financially from the buildout of the public-safety network in its jurisdiction—either in court or in Congress. While theoretically possible, such scenarios are very complicated and would take a long time to happen.

Absent such a monumental change in policy, does a state RFP bid really represent an “option” to present to the governor, as Stevens said he is seeking? On the surface, probably not—a state must find a way to gain rights to use the 700 MHz spectrum, which means negotiating with FirstNet on its terms.

But it certainly can be argued that going through an RFP process could result in a state or territory having much more information about its situation when FirstNet presents its plan to the state. And that may be attractive to some states and territories that fear they will have no choice but to accept whatever FirstNet offers, if they don’t do something. In that respect, some state officials may view issuing a state RFP as an act of self defense, more than one of defiance.

Whether officials believe issuing state RFP represents a legitimate option, leverage when negotiating with FirstNet, an effort to pursue the notion that “the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” or an exercise in information gathering, it will be interesting to see if other states and territories choose to follow the trail being blazed by New Hampshire.


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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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