Thu Feb 11 19:29:21 2016
When I wrote my Public Safety Advocate last week documenting the issues with the FirstNet RFP, I did not realize that for the third time in the history of Public Safety broadband communications I was writing my own death knell. This time it was a contract I have had with a major company interested in bidding on the FirstNet RFP. Ten months ago I joined a team that has been growing ever since. There were Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), attorneys, financial folks, a cadre of well-respected and capable network engineers, and others who all had a place on the team. Our team worked long and hard on what we expected the RFP to look like, our vision of what Public Safety really needs, how our vision might not track 100% with the FirstNet RFP, what we were willing to contribute to building a world class Public Safety network, and making it easier for Public Safety to use the network to assist in their tasks.
Once the RFP was issued it was passed around to each of the sub-teams and we all dug deeply into the RFP and the requirements. Early indications from our numerous meetings provided a high level of optimism and approvals from the upper level executives along the way. Then we all made a much deeper dive into the RFP sections, and under the impression we could submit questions that would be answered promptly, we began to ask questions. Day after day I checked the sites, day after day there were no statements about the answer timetables, and we soon realized that our concerns would not be addressed in time for us to complete and file the Compatibility Statement due in March, much less in time to respond to an intelligent RFP.
As we continued to delve further into the RFP, we continued to submit questions, and all we wanted was a signal of some type from FirstNet that some of the issues we were concerned about were, perhaps, negotiable.
Meanwhile, we discovered that no matter how many Public Safety users actually sign up for the network, and no matter how much the spectrum might be worth on a secondary basis, FirstNet wants yearly payments regardless of the uptake. It appeared to us that FirstNet is not interested in taking any of the risk of network uptake but rather wants all of that risk to be assumed by the RFP offeror. In some cases, if FirstNet does not believe the vendor is doing the best it could, FirstNet reserves the right to take over some of the vendor’s activities which, in reality, FirstNet should be responsible for in the first place.
The results of our findings were reported up the chain of command and early this week the decision of the company senior executives, based on the continued lack of response from FirstNet indicating some willingness to make changes to the RFP, was exactly as you would expect. They are certainly not risk averse, but they do expect sufficient flexibility in the requirements so that both sides can agree on a win-win RFP response. However, at this point FirstNet has remained mute, which has been perceived as unwavering.
So once again I find myself in an interesting position. I have spent the past eight years of my life trying to make this network happen for Public Safety and I am now, once again, out on the street because the company top brass had to make a go/no-go decision with absolutely no additional information forthcoming from FirstNet. I guess I don’t blame them, they did not get to be a well-run company that makes a lot of money and a great return on investment for its stockholders by taking unnecessary risks. So this is one vendor that will not be responding to the RFP that is on the street. Frankly, I think this company would have provided the Public Safety community with much more than simply a broadband wireless pipe to use for its daily and incident-related needs. The team that was disbanded earlier this week was one of the best I have ever had the privilege of working with. It was the best of the best and each and every team member was dedicated to one thing: making sure the Public Safety community would have the best possible network and related services.
I have to wonder how many other teams are being disbanded. How many companies with high hopes for providing Public Safety with a great network have decided to throw in the towel and walk away from this opportunity? Yes, FirstNet may, in fact, receive a few responses to the RFP, but it won’t receive ones that really want to demonstrate their creativity and understanding of what the Public Safety community really needs. Instead, they may receive responses that promise to meet all of the conditions contained in the RFP but there will be exceptions taken and corners cut in order to provide a business model that will make a response viable for the bidder.
This is not what the Public Safety community signed up for nor is it what the Public Safety community deserves.
Andrew M Seybold