AT&T and FirstNet officials last week provided new details about information that governors should consider when deciding whether their states and territories should accept the FirstNet deployment plan or choose to pursue the “opt-out” alternative.

Under the law that established FirstNet, governors have 90 days after the FirstNet state plan is presented—the target date for state-plan delivery is during the latter part of September—to make a decision. Accepting the FirstNet state plans means that FirstNet would build the radio access network (RAN), assume operation of the network and deploy network upgrades as technology evolves over the 25-year contract period. An “opt-out” state would have to build and operate the RAN within its borders, as well as fund all future network upgrades during the next 25 years.

“There are the reasons to opt in and the reasons you don’t want to opt out,” Chris Sambar, AT&T’s senior vice president for FirstNet, said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications.

Heading the reasons that a state should accept the state deployment plan submitted by FirstNet and AT&T is the fact that AT&T is a nationwide provider today and expects “to continue to augment that coverage” in the future, Sambar said.

In addition, there will be important functionality differences between the FirstNet offering and a typical commercial wireless broadband service, Sambar said.

“There’s an application ecosystem, [and] you need to be on FirstNet to get the application ecosystem,” Sambar said. “Those are secure applications riding on a secure core network—AT&T’s network—a secure radio access network, and that’s specifically for FirstNet customers.

“Another reason they’re going to want to be part of this nationwide network: interoperability. If a state opts out and goes with another carrier—or they try to build it themselves—they have to be interoperable with the nationwide network. That’s not easy. So, they’ve got to figure out how to do that with the nationwide awardee, AT&T. That’s going to be a challenge for them.”

Indeed, interoperability and capability testing will be conducted in the FirstNet laboratories at no additional cost to states that accept the FirstNet state plan, according to FirstNet CTO Jeff Bratcher. However, each opt-out state would have to fund its own testing programs—approved by FirstNet—because the work will not be done in the FirstNet lab, according to Bratcher.

Offering another perspective on the matter, Sambar noted several reasons why governors should not pursue the “opt-out” alternative, which would require a state to assume a lot of additional work, responsibility and financial risk during the next quarter century.

“If a state opts out, they are signing up for a 25-year management of a vendor or themselves. They’re going to have to set up a program office, they’re going to have to manage that vendor for 25 years, they’re going to have to ensure that that vendor complies with all of the security, retainability, reliability, rural coverage, suburban coverage—everything that’s in the national award, that vendor is going to have to comply with, and the state’s going to have to make sure that they do it.

“They’re going to need an NTIA grant, so they’re going to have to apply for that—an unknown amount of money from the NTIA that they’ll get to build this thing.”