Public Safety Advocate: Opting In or Out?

Thu Mar 23 18:27:14 2017

Since the U.S. Federal Claims Court it has made the following statement via Business Wire: “Rivada Networks announced today that it will work directly with the states and territories that may want to exercise their right to opt-out of FirstNet’s federal solution.” Further into the press release it also stated, “FirstNet has made its choice. Now it is time for states to make theirs. Those that stand by idly will be forced into a federal solution that may or may not suit their needs or budgets. We look forward to working with the states to ensure that they receive a network equal to the promise made to public safety when FirstNet was created.”

Even during the period when the court had the Rivada ruling under consideration, Rivada has continued on its quest to convince states to opt out. Rivada has assembled an interesting assortment of folks to assist in its pursuit of opt-out states. It starts with Karl Rove, a well-known member of the Bush administration who is reportedly visiting most if not all of the states led by a Republican governor. This effort is augmented by others including Chris Moore who retired as a Police Chief from San Jose, Calif. Since the court has ruled in favor of the government and FirstNet, Rivada is redoubling its efforts to convince states to opt out in favor of Rivada’s offering.

Rivada has decided to cast the opt-in decision as one in which the state is at the mercy of the federal government and may not end up with a Public Safety system that suits its needs. On the other side, I question whether a company that is not a network operator and to my knowledge operates few if any cellular networks, is a viable alternative for the states to consider. As my readers know, I recommend what I consider to be an opt-in-plus approach. The plus is made up of further negotiations with the winning bidder and FirstNet that would go beyond the opt-in state plan and provide a methodology for the state and jurisdictions within the state to add value to the network over time.

In the meantime, before the contract is officially awarded, outside pressure is being brought to bear on the states. I thought it might be a worthwhile endeavor to suggest some questions I believe should be asked by each state, territory, and tribal nation. It is only fair to the governor of each state to have all of the information available to make an intelligent decision. When I say intelligent decision, I do not mean one that fits with the party affiliation of the governor or his/her staff, I mean the decision that is best for the Public Safety agencies within the state going forward.

Below are a number of questions I would ask or have my FirstNet team ask if I were the governor of a state. I have categorized them by subject matter for ease of this discussion.

Political Questions

1) Is your vendor using high-profile political operatives rather than fact to try to influence your decision?

2) Has your state been told that if you opt out there will be funds made available to the state that can be used for state expenditures that have nothing to do with the network?

3) Will the state’s final decision be based on the needs of Public Safety or will it be based on some perception or promise of windfall profits?

4) If your state opts out, exactly what will your particular responsibility/cost/risk be in assuring your Public Safety responders that their equipment is fully compatible with FirstNet in the event they have to travel to another state or if others respond to an event in your state? And are you convinced your vendor has the resources to assure this interoperability?

Financial Implications

1) Does your state have enough Public Safety users and will there be sufficient demand for use of the secondary spectrum from existing commercial network operators within your state to fund the build-out, operation, and enhancement of the network in your state for the next 30 years?
a. If the answer is yes, have you been promised a windfall or other payment that does not meet the letter of the law that created FirstNet if you opt out?
b. If no, will the vendor or the state be liable for the shortfall year over year for the next 30 years?

2) Once the network is built out and there are coverage issues or areas where more capacity is required, will your vendor work with the state and/or local jurisdictions to add to the network to provide the required coverage and capacity?

3) What provisions in the vendor’s contract will guarantee your state receives network upgrades as required by FirstNet over the life of the network?

4) Who will be responsible for paying for these network upgrades?
a. Will the upgrades be done at the same time and coordinated with FirstNet in order to maintain full network compatibility?

5) How long has the vendor been in business?

6) If the vendor fails to deliver or goes out of business, who
a. Owns the equipment installed in your state?
b. Will take over operational aspects of your portion of the network?

7) What is its current and projected financial situation both generally and as it relates to FirstNet?

8) If a state opts into the FirstNet contract with the RFP winner the terms of the contract protect both FirstNet and each state. If your state opts out will you require the vendor to execute a performance bond for the total project cost for some other vendor to complete the network if required?

Operational Considerations

1) How will your portion of the nationwide network access the FirstNet resources that will be available to those that opted in?
a. Provisioning and decommissioning devices on the network?
b. Local control over your portion of the network that meets with FirstNet guidelines?
c. What will be your choice of devices?
d. The same as the opt-in states are offered?

2) Your state vendor will be providing only the Radio Access (RAN) and backhaul portion of the network, will it certify it is and will remain 100% compliant with the FirstNet nationwide network?

3) How will your Public Safety users be able to access true pre-emptive priority on your state’s portion of the network and how long will it take to gain this type of access?

4) Will your portion of the RAN have the same access to FirstNet network data as opt-in states? (For instance, would your incident app be aware of cross-border incidents, making your usual mutual aid partners across the border unavailable to assist)?

Vendor Qualifications and Capabilities

1) How many cellular networks has your vendor built or supervised being built?

2) How many cellular networks does it presently operate?

3) For how many cellular networks does it provide maintenance and service?

4) Once the network is built who will be operating the help desk and what type of support services will be offered?

5) If a problem that may be related to an issue outside the state’s network develops, how will it be resolved and how quickly?

6) Who, in fact, will be responsible for the ongoing operation and upgrading of the state’s network?

7) Will the vendor’s RAN be fully integrated with the network monitoring test and trouble-shooting software used by FirstNet so problems can be identified and rectified quickly?

I am sure there are more questions to be asked and answered, and the answers should be in written not verbal form and included as part of any RFP response and/or contract. If your state, territory, or tribal nation does decide to opt out, all of the details above and more must be included in your contract with the vendor. Regardless of whether the FirstNet partner or a different vendor is responsible for building out, operating, and upgrading your network, you must be assured that it is directly responsible and capable of providing all aspects of the deployment. You also need to be assured that when problems arise, as they always do, the vendor will be the single point of contact to have them resolved and you will not be referred to one of the many sub-contractors that will probably be part of the system build.

I have not even talked about the work that will need to be performed by the state and/or the state’s vendor in the case of opting out to prepare for the approval cycle that includes the FCC for network compatibility, the NTIA-SAPP for what might be grant funding for the build, and then FirstNet to negotiate a lease for use of the spectrum. This will require a great deal of effort and it will cost either the state or the vendor a lot in time, effort, and money so the needed documentation can be prepared to convince three different groups within the federal government that your state really has the resources. You will also need to prove the vendor signed a contract that can provide a successful build-out and integration of your portion of the network with the FirstNet system.

The bottom line is that your state’s decision should not be based on how much money you have been promised by a vendor or how much political clout a vendor has, but by making sure all of the above questions and any others you have been fully answered in writing and vetted for accuracy. According to Rivada’s press release, if you choose to opt in you will be at the mercy of the federal government. That is only partially true. The RFP winner will be the driving force within your state to get your portion of the network up and running. FirstNet has been listening to the Public Safety community via its Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC) and the great work done by it and the National Public Safety Telecommunications’ Council (NPTSC).

This network is too important on a nationwide scale to trust to just anyone. No matter what your state’s decision, you need to be assured it is in the best interest of your Public Safety community, not your elected officials!

Andrew M. Seybold

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