State Officials Offer Insight into FirstNet Opt-Out Scenarios
Thursday, May 26, 2016 | Comments

For several states, requests for proposals (RFPs) and requests for information (RFIs) seeking alternatives to the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) are a means with which to help their governors make a decision on what’s best for the state.

“We’re working in lock-step with FirstNet,” said John Stevens, New Hampshire single point of contact (SPOC). “But we’d be remiss if we did not provide an alternative for the governor to consider when the time comes.”

Stevens was one of four state officials who described their states’ efforts to look at FirstNet alternatives and opt-out scenarios during a National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) Broadband and Technologies Working Group conference call on May 25. The New Hampshire Statewide Interoperability Executive Committee first began looking at alternatives about a year ago. One of the committee’s initial concerns was that the FirstNet network would only cover the state’s two largest cities and not offer statewide coverage. To ensure the state had alternatives that would allow coverage throughout the state, officials released an RFP in December to gauge commercial interest.

New Hampshire received 81 questions on the RFP from six vendors initially and received five proposals total. The state is currently working on reviewing those proposals and hopes to use that information to better inform the governor’s decision when the state receives its plan from FirstNet, something Stevens expects to happen in quarter 2 of 2017.

Helping the governor make the most informed decision possible was also a main goal for the state of Illinois when it released an RFI.

“How can we make a recommendation (on the state plan), if we don’t have something to compare it to?” said Joe Galvin, Illinois statewide interoperability coordinator (SWIC).

Illinois initially released an RFI, because it was looking for more general information that could later guide the building of an RFP, Galvin said. Officials will be meeting with the state’s governor and FirstNet in June and will decide the next steps, such as releasing an RFP, after that.

“We’re not trying to go one way or the other,” Galvin said of the decision to opt-in or out of FirstNet. “We just want to weigh all of our options.”

The state of Michigan has also looked at FirstNet alternatives, but has ran into some issues finding funding to support the effort, said Brad Stoddard, director of Michigan’s Public Safety Communication System (MPSCS).

The state planned to hire someone to help with an analysis of alternatives, but had to delay that portion of its plans when the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) changed the rules for State and Local Implementation Grant Program (SLIGP) grants.

While the state looks for funding for an analysis, it is closely watching other states to see what they do in terms of alternatives, Stoddard said. In releasing its RFI, the state of Colorado sought to focus on the business side of the issue. Prior to the RFI, the state had a comprehensive coverage analysis performed, so it knew the technical side of an alternative scenario was possible, said Kim Coleman Madsen, Public-Safety Broadband Program manager for Colorado.

“We know technically it can be done,” she said. “But we’re interested in the business side.”

As part of the RFI process, the state is looking for responses from entities such as regional carriers who would not bid on the RFP for FirstNet’s nationwide network, Madsen said. This will give the state a better idea of all of the options available.

The state’s goal is to have two viable options ready for when the governor must make a decision, Colorado SPOC Brian Shepherd said. Once FirstNet releases Colorado’s state plan, the state officials will perform a line-by-line analysis between that plan and an alternative plan.

“We hope to use the two state plans to make a long-term decision for what is best for the state of Colorado,” Shepherd said.

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