My Turn: New Hampshire first responders need a reliable communications network

It’s a daunting task, because Rivada has never successfully built a radio access network, and state government does not possess such technical expertise.

By Mark Ouellette

For 15 years, the nation’s first responders have stressed the need for a dedicated public safety communications network that is interoperable and reliable during emergencies.

In 2012, Congress took the first steps toward that goal through the creation of a public-private partnership called FirstNet. Now, after years of further testimony, debate, rulemaking, bidding and extensive input from state and local safety officials, New Hampshire – and every other state – has an opportunity to realize the benefits of a wireless broadband network built entirely for public safety.

Today, there are two proposed plans pending to deploy a public safety network in New Hampshire. Gov. Chris Sununu must decide between the two plans before Dec. 28.

Should the governor choose to “opt in,” the state would permit FirstNet to deploy a statewide network using AT&T as its partner. AT&T would be responsible to construct, maintain and upgrade a radio access network, or RAN, in New Hampshire over a 25-year period, deploying specially allocated spectrum intended for first responders’ use.

AT&T’s plan will offer priority and preemption on its network for public safety users to ensure effective, uninterrupted communications, even during emergencies when service to commercial and retail customers may be impacted. AT&T will also provide dedicated customer service to the state’s first responders, and technical support in times of emergency. AT&T has proposed a substantial build for New Hampshire, expanding on its extensive commercial network to ensure robust coverage throughout the state.

When completed, AT&T’s network will cover 99 percent of New Hampshire’s population and 98 percent of its geography, ensuring nearly ubiquitous coverage for public safety in both rural and urban areas. To date, 29 states and 2 territories have opted-in, choosing AT&T/FirstNet.

If the governor chooses to “opt out,” the state would undertake an alternative plan using a startup company called Rivada Networks to build a RAN of its own. Under this scenario, New Hampshire would take on all the financial, logistical and technical risk of building, maintaining and upgrading the network for 25 years. It’s a daunting task, because Rivada has never successfully built a radio access network, and state government does not possess such technical expertise.

This opinion article was written by Mark Ouellette and appears in the Concord Monitor dated November 18, 2017.

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Mark Ouellette is president emeritus of the Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire

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