Dec 11 2015
The most important news of the week is, of course, that on December 9, 2015, the FirstNet Board of Directors approved the final version of its RFP and ordered its staff to get it on the street as soon as possible, which we are told will be early January!
This is a major milestone for the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network. This effort goes back to the days when Chief McEwen (ret) began pushing for the 700-MHz wideband segment of the Public Safety spectrum (wideband was to be 50-KHz channels for data services), and the FCC assigned this 5X5 MHz of spectrum to the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST) along the way to the “D-Block.” The D-Block, a 5X5-MHz allocation of spectrum adjacent to the Public Safety Broadband Spectrum, was turned over to the Public Safety community in Title VI of the Middle Class Tax Relief Bill, signed into law at the end of February 2012. There were many other important milestones as Representative King introduced a bill to provide the spectrum to Public Safety, formation of the Public Safety Alliance to work with Congress, the Executive Branch, and the FCC to allocate the spectrum, to the next bill introduced by Senators Lieberman and McCain, and finally the bill that turned into Title VI, introduced by Senator Rockefeller and co-sponsored by both sides of the Senate.
FirstNet was established and there were some rocky times in its formative days. There was real concern that FirstNet might not being as independent an authority as Congress appeared to mandate, and some unrest at the board level and elsewhere. It was taking far too long to hire people, to get the organization up and running, and during 2012 and into 2013 it looked to many of us as though FirstNet would not be able to meet its objectives: to build and operate a Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN). However, FirstNet put its house in order, began acting more like an independent authority, and started hiring some very dedicated people to run the operation.
These folks made some commitments to Public Safety and to themselves, rolled up their sleeves, and worked long, hard hours. The result is the approval to release the RFP for a nationwide partner to assist in building out and operating the network. It appears that the final RFP is vastly different from the one we all saw back in the spring of this year. The number of pages is down, I am told the language is much more conducive to finding a partner than when it read like a procurement document, and it appears as though FirstNet will provide some additional time for questions and responses early in the release process, all good things.
Will every vendor be happy with this version of the RFP? Probably not. Will companies that are waiting to see the final RFP before committing resources to responding to the RFP jump in with both feet? Will the new RFP stave off vendors wanting to sue (and slow down this much needed project)? I hope the answer to these two questions is a resounding, “yes.” FirstNet’s staff did a remarkable job in pushing the RFP forward, the board was involved as was the Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC) under the direction of Chief McEwen. I have to tell you, as someone who has been involved with this project for more than seven years, being in the room at these meetings and listening to the discussion, the accolades for all who have worked so hard to get to this point, and then the final vote felt as good to me as the day in February when the President signed the law that provides Public Safety with the spectrum, a management organization, and a start of the funding needed for the project.
What amazes me most is that the FirstNet staff and board members who have worked so long and hard on this are, by industry standards, not being paid what they would be in the private sector yet they are performing as though this is a startup venture that would make them all rich. It is the dedication to the mission that keeps these folks moving forward, and that is something FirstNet is very blessed to have: a group of people who are dedicated to what needs to be done and willing to work as hard as they are to make it happen. My hat is off to all of them!
This is a major milestone and we have more work ahead of us. Nonetheless, this is a great week for Public Safety!
Enjoy your weekend.
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