Fri Jan 8 09:52:44 2016
While We Wait for FirstNet
A while ago I wrote an article entitled, “While We Wait for FirstNet,” which was about how Public Safety entities should move forward with commercial network operators for some broadband experience. However, now “While We Wait for FirstNet” is about waiting, patiently I trust, for the release the RFP the Board of Directors approved at their December meeting.
I am sure the document is finished and ready to go. I am also sure that FirstNet, Public Safety, and the vendor community want it on the street as soon as possible. However, the wheels of government grind slowly forward and I suspect that final federal approvals are being discussed ad nauseum by legal types in various government departments and agencies. It appears that while FirstNet is acting more and more like the “independent authority” Congress intended it to be, some are bent on making sure that all the federal rules and regulations are adhered to and that they have the final say in order to “remind” FirstNet that it is, in fact, still a part of the federal government.
No matter, I am confident this will be settled soon and the document will make its way onto the street where the vendors, consultants, Public Safety community, and anyone else with an interest will be able to read it, dissect it, and then busy themselves answering it and/or making waves because it did not contain this, that, or the other thing. I have always taken a view of his RFP that it is nothing more than a vendor’s entry ticket into the stadium. Vendors will have to prove they have the technical expertise, the marketing expertise, the operational expertise, and by the way, a bank account or line of credit that will support a $20-$35 billion investment before realizing a return on investment.
Once a vendor receives a ticket to the big game it will be shown into the arena where it will be seated at the table across from all sorts of FirstNet and related federal folks who are there to discuss the RFP response and, more than that, to negotiate the best deal FirstNet can make for the benefit of the Public Safety community. The final choice won’t be made solely on the RFP response but on the after-RFP negotiations that must assuredly take place. In reality, if FirstNet were a private enterprise, given the same task it would have been sitting down across the table from vendors several years ago discussing what needed to be done and how best to accomplish it. But since it is part of the federal government, FirstNet is not permitted to sit down at the negotiating table until the vendor has passed muster by spending thousands of dollars and man-hours responding to the RFP that will change numerous times during network build-out.
If you have ever had a house built you know that if you compare the plans submitted to the building department to obtain your permit and the “as built” plans your contractor will return to you with the key to your new house they will differ in many, many ways.
This effort represents a project that has never been done before. The government’s aborted attempts to build a nationwide shared land mobile radio system ended up in disaster, and now it thinks it has to oversee what FirstNet is doing and which vendor should be chosen. We do not know how many vendors or entities will step up to the RFP. AT&T this week said in a public forum that it will aggressively pursue the opportunity and Rivada Networks, which has some very smart technology folks, will probably bid, but beyond that? Perhaps systems integration companies with partners, other commercial network operators such as Verizon which, for some reason seems to be a favored horse in the race simply because its spectrum is adjacent to FirstNet’s, or someone we don’t suspect has any interest?
Some potential vendors may pre-announce their interest only to secure a spot and potentially scare away other bidders. Some may submit a half-hearted bid so that later they can take FirstNet and the winning bidder to court and challenge the decision, delaying this desperately needed system. Then there will be those who believe they can provide Public Safety with the network it needs and deserves and that in doing so they can also recoup their investment over time and even make some money. Who is going to step up to try for the winning ticket for the seat at the table? That, of course, we cannot know until the RFP responses are received by FirstNet and even then, depending on the rules, we may not be informed of the names of the entities that submitted bids.
As we sit waiting, with staffs already assigned to the task of responding, with deals being cut between potential partners, we are all anxious to see what, exactly, the first version of the RFP has morphed into. I have been told that it is less of a procurement document than a document inviting potential partners to submit their ideas about how to build the network and put it into operation. I hope what I have been told proves to be true. There are a number of issues what might spook potential vendors from responding but hopefully there are more enticements in the document than gotchas.
While we wait for FirstNet and the federal government to release the RFP it is important to keep in mind that according to the norm within the federal government, FirstNet is moving forward at warp speed and too fast for some of those accustomed to the “normal” crawl of government projects. According to the Public Safety and vendor community, the network should have been largely up and running by now, and somewhere in between is where we are. No one can blame FirstNet for the delays, but that does not mean FirstNet or any of us are happy about them.
I expect to see the RFP next week at some point, simply because I think even the federal attorneys will finally agree that this RFP needs to be on the street sooner rather than later.
Have a Great Weekend,
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