States Officials Offer Insights After FirstNet SPOC Meeting Reveals Early Opt-in Option, Terms of Use Resolution
Friday, June 09, 2017 | Comments

The fifth First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) in-person state single point of contact (SPOC) meeting — the first since FirstNet announced its industry partner AT&T at the end of March — wrapped up this week with FirstNet officials saying states can opt in as soon as they receive their first state plan and reassuring states that they will address state portal terms of use concerns.

FirstNet officials are still targeting June 19 for delivery of all the 56 state and territory draft state plans, although they are no longer using the “draft state plan” term. The state plan review process, as it’s now called, begins with the initial state plan delivery this month. States have 45 days to review the plan and offer comments back to FirstNet. FirstNet and AT&T officials will take 45 days to adjudicate the comments. At that point, FirstNet will make the plan official and notify the governor, and the 90-day window begins for an opt-in or opt-out decision.

If a state has no questions or changes to its state plan and is satisfied, the state can start the 90-day opt-in/opt-out window early. “Some states wanted to move more quickly,” said Rich Reed, FirstNet chief customer officer. “If they want to use the full time, they can, but for those that want more flexibility they can have that.”

David Vice, SPOC for Indiana, said Indiana will conduct 10 regional seminars after the state plan is released to further educate and seek information on local AT&T coverage existence and future needs. “Consequently, we will be utilizing at least a portion of that window of time for evaluation of the state plan, consultation with AT&T and FirstNet, and our subsequent discussion with the governor leading to the decision to opt in or out,” he said.

Reed also said FirstNet is addressing the states’ concerns about the terms of use document for the state plan portal, the online tool FirstNet will use to deliver the state plan information.

“We’ve made a commitment to the states to provide them something they can live with,” Reed said. “The goal is to protect the intellectual property of AT&T, and we don’t want to create any additional security vulnerabilities.”

Several state officials are concerned about the legal terms of use document FirstNet requested they sign before they can access the state plan portal. Washington state sent a letter to FirstNet outlining its concerns, including requests in the document that conflict with state laws, language about the security of the portal and user accounts, limits of liability and others.

Chris Sambar, senior vice president, AT&T FirstNet, said many of the 200 attendees began the two-day meeting with skepticism and trepidation. But because AT&T and FirstNet officials could give SPOCs more details than they could before the industry partner contract was signed, “their mood clearly softened,” Sambar said.

Sambar declined to discuss pricing details or cost of using the FirstNet core, saying that information would be delivered in the states’ portals. Indiana’s Vice said access to the state plan portal should address the more overarching issues of coverage and costs.

"We are still looking for much of the information that will come with the state plan," said Arnold Hooper, Tennessee's SPOC. "One of the major issues that I see is that AT&T doesn’t fully understand incident command and how the local control portion fits at this time. This will come as they become more entrenched in providing communications for public safety. I feel like we are still in a wait mode until the plan is delivered. We will have a lot of work to do after we receive the plan."

Sambar said AT&T’s network covers 99 percent of Americans, and the carrier has an aggressive plan to cover the white spaces. States are anxious to help do that with their state assets, he said. The carrier will capitalize on deployables to further boost coverage.

He said capacity won’t be an issue for FirstNet users, because AT&T offered all its commercial bands to public safety. AT&T is also positioned to drive an application ecosystem, he said.

“Our goal is to drive transparency,” he said. “We let [attendees] know we’re 100 percent committed to the mission. This is public safety’s network, and they need to think about it that way.”

Fifty-one SPOCs attended the meeting, and each SPOC could have up to five team members. “I think it was evident that there is initially a good working relationship between the staffs of AT&T and FirstNet,” Vice said. “There were many opportunities for an open dialogue, and if not directly answered, it was apparent that discussions were ongoing to better understand the issues and subsequently lead to a decision. Governance at the state and local levels is still an open question for me.”

Mississippi, which didn’t conduct a state consultation meeting with FirstNet and didn’t provide state data through the state data collection process, had representatives at the latest SPOC meeting. FirstNet officials “have consulted with them, and I think our state plan will meet their needs,” Reed said.

“Our goal is 56 state opt-ins,” Reed said. “I think we’ll offer a high level of satisfaction with the plans we deliver.”

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