Lawmakers Question FirstNet RFP Details During House Subcommittee Hearing
Tuesday, February 02, 2016 | Comments
House lawmakers asked pointed questions about the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) request for proposals (RFP) and timeline during a communications and technology subcommittee hearing Feb. 2.

In his opening statement, Rep. Greg Walden, chairman of the subcommittee, highlighted concerns that FirstNet is asking one company to take on the obligations nationwide through its nationwide approach to the acquisition. “This approach could make it tougher for small and regional companies to participate in FirstNet without partnering with one of the nationwide carriers,” he said.

Walden also cited concerns that FirstNet’s RFP asks the winning bidder to take on the obligation to serve the needs of public safety, but doesn’t provide an economic incentive to do so.

“In broad strokes, the RFP take the approach that rather than FirstNet paying for the contractor’s services, wireless providers will come to play in exchange for access to FirstNet’s spectrum and the ability to charge public-safety users subscription fees,” Walden said. “The RFP also envisions grants of up to $6.5 billion in funding to support the buildout and operation of the network, but requires repayment of nearly 85 percent of that money in the form of ‘sustainability payments’ to FirstNet. In short, it appears FirstNet is asking a wireless provider to take on the obligation of building a network to public-safety specifications in exchange for a monopoly on public-safety users and a zero interest.”

Walden also said he was concerned the FCC could delay the process because the commission is charged with reviewing and approving a state’s plan to deploy its own radio access network (RAN). David Furth, deputy chief of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau (PSHSB), was asked why the commission hasn’t begun a rulemaking on the process for states that decide to opt out and build their own RANs.

Furth said the FCC will now move forward with the rulemaking because the RFP is out, and the FCC’s work will be in line with the planned release of the first state plans in the second quarter of 2017.

“We have no intention to slow walk this process,” said Furth in response to a question from Rep. Marsha Blackburn from Tennessee. “We have in fact been working with FirstNet on their timeline. The FCC is capable of conducting a rulemaking quickly. … Our focus is going to be on that statute and how we implement it. This is the right time to do it because now we have the RFP; it would have been premature before the RFP. We think it will build a better record. We think the timing is right.”

FirstNet President TJ Kennedy said all the states, whether they opt in or opt out, will be operating by the same network policies and standards, and they will all connect to the same nationwide core network. “This is a critical baseline,” he said.

Rep. Mike Doyle from Pennsylvania also questioned Furth about the T-band incumbents and auctioning the UHF spectrum currently used by public-safety and other mission-critical communications licensees in 11 markets. The FCC has a deadline to auction the spectrum by 2021 under the legislation that also created FirstNet.

“We are cognizant of the situation that T-band licensees are in,” Furth said. “We want to make sure there is no loss of service or continuity …”

Cybersecurity and next-generation 9-1-1 (NG 9-1-1) integration were other areas of concern for lawmakers. Rep. Blackburn pointed out that many government networks are not secure and FirstNet should set a higher bar. Kennedy said FirstNet has worked hard to address best practices for cybersecurity, and the RFP spells out cybersecurity requirements in Section J. “We are going to be watching that very closely,” Rep. Blackburn said.

Furth highlighted the work the FCC’s Task Force on Optimal Public-Safety Answering Point (PSAP) Architecture (TFOPA) is doing on PSAP cybersecurity. A working group made specific 9-1-1 cybersecurity recommendations in December, and the task force approved them at a meeting this week.

When asked by Rep. Doyle about which companies might respond to the RFP, Kennedy said the incorporation of 16 public-safety objectives instead of specific requirements will foster more competition, innovation and partnerships among the bidders.

“It is driven by public-safety objectives to drive more competition, not less,” Kennedy said. “We think others outside the major telcos will come forward to make it work.”

Rep. John Shimkus from Illinois said he is concerned that because the RFP includes penalties for not hitting targets, the contractor will low-ball the targets. “That could happen,” Kennedy said. “We want to make sure the targets are achievable, and through competition in the RFP, they will have to be comparable targets.”

Rep. Chris Collins said he worked in Erie County, New York, when it was the first county to pull out of the planned $2 billion New York statewide LMR network in 2009. He said he was glad the state didn’t build the network because now FirstNet is ramping up.

“You must maintain your LMR systems,” Kennedy said.

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Sandra Wendelken is editor of MissionCritical Communications and RadioResource International magazines. Contact her at swendelken@RRMediaGroup.com.

 
 
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Comments
On 2/3/16, Denis Marin said:
Far too many people think that FirstNet is the be-all end-all network that will provide every public-safety agency with instant interoperable voice and data communications nationwide without areas of no coverage largely based on hype and ignorance. Using the analogy of the NYPD and NYFD inability to talk to each other on 9/11 and thinking that situation is going to be solved by FirstNet is disastrous. FirstNet will be a DATA ONLY system for the foreseeable future. It WILL NOT PROVIDE interoperable voice communications such as was the problem in NYC for many years if ever. FirstNet isn't a panacea, folks. It is a niche solution to a small, albeit important, piece of the interoperability issue.


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