Disagreements between FirstNet/AT&T officials and representatives of state government and other wireless carriers have been highlighted during the past week as various stakeholders in the nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN) prepare for a FirstNet hearing before a House subcommittee.

Entitled “Oversight of FirstNet: State Perspectives,” the hearing is scheduled to begin at 10:40 a.m. Eastern today and will be webcast. Witnesses expected to speak are:

  • Robert LeGrande, founder of the Digital Decision;
  • Brian Moran, secretary of public safety and homeland security for the state of Virginia;
  • Mike Poth, FirstNet CEO;
  • Chris Sambar, AT&T senior vice president in charge of the FirstNet initiative; and
  • John Stevens, statewide interoperability coordinator for the state of New Hampshire

Under the law that established FirstNet, governors in all 56 states and territories have the choice of making an “opt-in” decision—accepting the FirstNet deployment plan and allowing AT&T to build the LTE radio access network (RAN) within the state’s borders at no cost to the state—or pursuing the “opt-out” alternative, which would require the state to be responsible for building and maintaining the RAN for the next 25 years. Governors have until Dec. 28 to make their decisions.

Whether governors have all the information they need to make the “opt-in/opt-out” decisions and whether the “opt-out” choice—created by Congress in the 2012 legislation that established FirstNet—is expected to be a topic of considerable discussion during the hearing.

At the heart of the debate are costs facing “opt-out” states for accessing the FirstNet LTE core and 700 MHz Band 14 spectrum licensed to FirstNet. In addition, each “opt-out” state faces a potential opt-out termination penalty—costing billions of dollars in some states—that many state and vendor representatives are describing as excessive and unjustified, if an “opt-out” effort fails.

Indeed, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley—now a board member for Rivada Networks, which is competing for several “opt-out” alternative RAN bids—repeatedly claimed that FirstNet and AT&T have not been fully transparent in their dealings with states during a session last week at the CCA show in Fort Worth.

O’Malley encouraged governors to make “opt-out” decisions, because an “opt-in” choice does not result in a contractual agreement between a state and FirstNet that governs how FirstNet should deploy, maintain and upgrade the NPSBN.

“You have no guarantee, if you go with what’s being shoved down people’s throats with AT&T,” according to O’Malley, who described the treatment of states by FirstNet and AT&T as “third-world thuggery.”