Industry Experts Say Opting Out of FirstNet Will be Difficult
Friday, April 01, 2016 | Comments
When considering the potential of an opt-out implementation or alternative radio access network (RAN) for the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) national public-safety broadband network, states should always keep in mind what is best for public safety, several industry insiders said during a panel on the topic at the International Wireless Communications Expo (IWCE).

“If a state’s going to opt out, it needs to do it with public safety in mind,” said Robert Gaudioso, an attorney with Snyder & Snyder in New York.

While practicing in New York, Gaudioso has seen state-run networks both succeed and fail miserably, he said. For the projects that succeeded, the project managers took into account both the political and geographical diversity of the state. That allowed them to plan a network that truly fit the needs of the state.

Mike Barney, former public-safety Long Term Evolution (LTE) program manager for the Texas Department of Public Safety, said he sees few reasons for states to opt out. These included:

• If the state can deploy a network faster and more cost effectively or if it already has much of the needed equipment
• If a state has an exigent circumstance, such as a vital network going down and needing to replace it before the FirstNet network comes up
• Specific statutory requirements governing the flow of data or other issues that are unique to the state
• State and local politics

“I believe opting out is a serious issue,” Barney said. “If you’re going to opt out, you should have a good public-safety reason for it.”

The areas of the country that would be most likely to succeed in opting out would be small districts and territories because it could be more cost effective for them to provide strong coverage throughout the area, Barney said. High population areas and states with a lot of rural areas would likely struggle with opting out because of the expense of providing adequate coverage.

Barney said he does not think there are many states or areas that would be successful at opting out. Those that do consider the option will likely need to spend a lot of time and money exploring every facet of the issue.

“There are a very large number of opt-out pitfalls you need to be aware of,” Barney said. “If you’re going to opt out, you should have a good public-safety reason for it.”

George Molnar, former statewide interoperability coordinator (SWIC) for the state of Nevada, said he does not think opting out is a feasible strategy for any state.

“Opting out is truly a fantasy,” he said, noting that keeping up with maintenance, technology upgrades, FirstNet policy updates and more during the network’s initial 25-year period would likely be overwhelming for states.

Molnar encouraged public-safety users to continue to communicate with FirstNet about their needs so that the network will adequately serve public-safety users.

“Let them make a compelling business offer,” he said.

FirstNet President TJ Kennedy agreed, saying that the organization and its partner on the network will need to earn the business of public-safety entities.

Regardless of the path a state takes, all of the panelists encouraged public-safety users and states to continue exploring and gathering data about their needs so that they can make the most informed decision when state plans come out.

“The more information you gather, the better off you are,” Gaudioso said.

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Danny Ramey is assistant editor with MissionCritical Communications and RadioResource International magazines. Contact him at

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On 5/3/16, Mike Barney said:
Thanks for the great article on opting out of FirstNet. FirstNet is showing great promise and has cleared key hurdles, drawing credible, capable vendors to bid on this critical first responder network. I'd like to clarify a section regarding states and territories considering an opt out.

Geographically small jurisdictions with significant existing fiber-based infrastructure and towers may have an initial financial advantage in opting out, however, their cost to maintain and operate that radio access network (RAN) will likely be more than the FirstNet operator's cost due to scale. This does not consider the legal interpretations from FirstNet regarding opt-out income and distributions — an added factor likely unfavorable to any sized jurisdiction.

In addition to the challenges above, the biggest challenge for states with high population areas — metro areas over 1 million, New York City to Tucson — could be their market valuation. This stealth financial factor may be orders of magnitude larger than a small jurisdiction's valuation. A miscalculation and the state has to guess — that could put an opt-out state in the red from day one for 25 years. This is a not an obvious issue, and the political and financial risks to a state and governor are high.

FirstNet's leadership has gone a very long way to developing trust and a solid business ethic. Their outreach program is credible and effective and clearly addresses the needs of first responders. Their technical and management teams are listening to public safety, and I've yet to hear an argument for opting out that would meet any business litmus test.

Public safety and the public at large need a homogeneous dedicated national broadband network. That's FirstNet.


Mike Barney
Director of Public Safety Solutions
Kodiak Networks Inc.

On 4/6/16, JOHN said:

On 4/6/16, Jeff said:
Opting out and building our own to meet the real public-safety needs would be the only right choice if we are keeping public safety in mind when you consider the FirstNet coverage plan is only three cities, two interstates and major highways for our whole state.
If they just want a feel-good story to pat themselves on the pack while providing no real benefit to public safety in our state then their plan is great.
Very little to no benefit to any of the agencies outside those three cities for an entire state.

On 4/6/16, Liam said:
Why trust FirstNet at all? They cater to industry first and foremost. They scorched earth the BTOP projects, stalled the spectrum management leasing agreements (SMLAs) for their hidden agenda and then said, "see government can't do this." Putting industry in charge for an unknown actual cost and giving back what public safety already has minus carrier choice and self controls sounds like crony capitalism, not enhanced public safety.

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