FirstNet Listens to States in RFP, Offers Vendors ‘Golden Opportunity’
By Ray Lehr
Thursday, January 14, 2016 | Comments
The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) has put together a complex request for proposals (RFP) that is not like any before it. The document, released Jan. 13, presents details on the process, but leaves the actual solution to the bidders.

Contracting under the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) provisions is something any federal contractor will understand. A nationwide network build has been done before, just not as a public-safety-grade network. The new element is having a final product that first responders will jump onto in droves to make it a success. That and a financial model that gains full value from the spectrum for commercial secondary use but provides a seamless adjustment of priority access to first responders when needed.

The RFP is composed of 13 sections and numerous templates, one of which is the State Plan Template. While this is only a table of contents and outline, it shows the states what they can expect to be in their plans once a vendor partner is selected. I was happy to see FirstNet listened to the many states that voiced a desire to use their own infrastructure as part of the build. The inclusion of state assets may add a level of complexity but states have been building LMR networks for years and recently branched out to include broadband networks. They have ready access to those assets and most cover areas in which a carrier may not have enough customers to build. This section is a great example of FirstNet listening to its stakeholders.

I also believe the states can assist vendors in understanding what is essential to the plans with state or regional industry days. Industry days could be similar to a focus group that would help bidders understand their unique challenges in coverage and data for specific application already in use. They could also set expectations for the rollout because this will be done in several phases. I don't believe FirstNet would object to this as long as all potential bidders were given the opportunity to attend. Several states and the Mid-Atlantic Consortium for Interoperable Nationwide Advanced Communications (MACINAC) group were waiting for the RFP release to decide on scheduling those types of events, and now they will begin planning.

This will not be an easy RFP to respond to. Much of the information is dependent on the bidders assembling the right partners and having a solid understanding of all 56 states’ and territories’ needs. I know the requirement to provide an annual check to FirstNet has scared off some major companies that are too risk averse to go down that road. But it remains a golden opportunity for a dedicated team that sees this as our public-safety moonshot.

After 9/11, many companies, large and small, provided all sorts of aid to the areas of our country that had been devastated by the unprecedented attacks on our homeland. They lost money, and some of their workers suffered the same trauma as the brave first responders who gave their all. Nobody was listening to the bean counters in corporate offices back then. The nation was crippled, and everyone saw it as an honor to be able to help. Now, 15 years later we need to make “never forget” more than just a bumper sticker. I hope that industry will step up and make sure the hard work done to secure the D block 700 MHz spectrum will not have been in vain. Just like sending a man to the moon, this is difficult, complex and risky. But the rewards for our nation’s first responders and the countless lives it will save are well worth taking the shot.

Ray Lehr served 30 years in the fire service with the Baltimore City Fire Department. He also served as the city’s project manager on a new 800 MHz digital radio system for police, fire and EMS. In 2012, he was named the state of Maryland interoperability director and oversaw building a statewide 700 MHz radio system. He was appointed the single point of contact (SPOC) for Maryland and led the first initial consultation with FirstNet in 2014. Lehr currently is a consultant supporting the Mid-Atlantic Consortium for Interoperable Nationwide Advanced Communications (MACINAC).

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