Verizon urges FCC to confirm states' right to opt out of FirstNet

Abstract photo of a crime scene
States may opt out of FirstNet but must choose a network that is interoperable with AT&T's offering.

Verizon is urging the FCC to tell states that FirstNet isn’t their only option for a wireless network for first responders.

The FirstNet organization was created in 2012, but the U.S. Department of Commerce didn’t award the contract to a service provider until March 2017, when it granted AT&T the right to build the nation’s first network dedicated to first responders. States have a legal right to opt out of FirstNet’s service, but if they choose another service provider, the network must be interoperable with FirstNet’s offering.

“Many commenters agree that to achieve Congress’ and the FCC’s goal of allowing states their ‘meaningful exercise of options,’ states should have the same flexibility as FirstNet to select partners for deploying and operating such a network. This flexibility must include the state’s and its partner’s authority to build and operate their own network core, which includes data centers and systems used to interconnect users to each other and to other public networks, as long as it is interoperable with FirstNet’s nationwide network,” Verizon said in an FCC filing. “The Commission should confirm that states possess that flexibility.”

Verizon has long served the needs of first responders, said Michael Maiorana, senior vice president of public sector markets for Verizon Enterprise Solutions, and it supports “the concept of FirstNet.” But while the nation’s largest wireless carrier carefully positions its service as complementary to FirstNet, the company clearly views the FirstNet rollout as an opportunity to build on its momentum as a provider of wireless communications for public safety organizations.

“We’re very interested in ensuring innovation, ensuring the best cost, ensuring our customers and ultimately public safety customers have a choice,” Maiorana said in an interview with FierceWireless. “In the general population with the end users and the people that make the day-to-day decisions, I think there needs to be additional clarity. I think that’s why so many states are putting out opt-out RFPs (requests for proposals).”

FirstNet announced its second state customer two weeks ago, and since then, three more states have voiced their support for FirstNet’s offering. Rivada Networks, which lost the FirstNet contract to AT&T, said last month that it continues to respond to states that issue RFPs seeking vendors willing to build and maintain a statewide public safety LTE radio access network (RAN) that would be interoperable with FirstNet’s offering.

Specifically, Verizon is asking the FCC to clarify that states may deploy a network core other than FirstNet’s, and to confirm that an “interoperability review of any state alternative plan will not be limited to a state RAN (radio access network) that interconnects directly with the network core” developed by FirstNet.

Verizon also wants the FCC to confirm that network interoperability can be achieved through alternative network configurations “including core-to-core interconnection and mutual automatic roaming arrangements” that meet the agency’s interoperability criteria.