The U.S. Federal Court of Claims ruled in favor of the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), meaning the first broadband network devoted to public safety can proceed with a contract award, which is likely going to AT&T.
FirstNet had wanted to award the contract before the end of last year, but one of the bidders, Rivada, said it was wrongly removed from the list of potential contractors. Rivada contested its exclusion from the contract and filed a legal protest, which the federal claims court rejected today.
“We are pleased with the Court’s decision,” said FirstNet CEO Mike Poth in a prepared statement. “This is a positive development for FirstNet and the public safety community. FirstNet intends to move expeditiously to finalize the contract for the nationwide public safety broadband network.”
The 25-year contract is expected to bring additional business to infrastructure vendors and tower operators. And if it’s awarded to AT&T as widely expected, AT&T will get access to FirstNet’s 20 MHz of 700 MHz low-band spectrum and $6.5 billion for designing and operating the nationwide network for federal, state and local authorities, with the right to sell excess capacity on the system.
AT&T provided the following statement: “We are pleased by the court’s ruling as it allows FirstNet to select its partner and jump-start the process of delivering America’s first nationwide broadband network dedicated to public safety. We would be honored to be selected and help fulfill FirstNet’s important public safety mission.”
Last year, AT&T CEO, President and Chairman Randall Stephenson said during an investor event that the company thinks it’s important to build the network for first responders. “It's a market segment, first responder community, where we under-index significantly in market share and so, the ability to go in and build a network like this and then go in and compete aggressively for new business—it’s all largely new business for us—is something we're very excited about,” he said.
Through a spokesman, Rivada said it regretted the court’s decision but the company is making it clear that it intends to compete for business from states and will work directly with states and territories that may want to exercise their opt-out of FirstNet’s federal solution. On Twitter, the company indicated it may file an appeal.
Rivada U.S. Court of Fed Claims motion denied. Considering appeal & are ramping up with States that want option to exercise opt-out right.— RivadaNetworks (@RivadaNetworks) March 17, 2017
“Rivada was founded on the conviction that first responders need and deserve access to a world-class, purpose-built high-speed wireless network,” said Declan Ganley, co-CEO and executive chairman of Rivada Networks, in a press release. “We want America’s Governors to know that Rivada’s solution remains available to them even if FirstNet ultimately chooses a different approach.”
Joe Euteneuer, co-CEO at Rivada Networks, added that the company is “fully prepared” to execute its plan to work with the states to build state-of-the art, dedicated networks for public safety. Rivada is already working with New Hampshire on an alternative plan for that state should it decide to opt out.
Euteneuer added: “FirstNet has made its choice. Now it is time for states to make theirs. Those that stand by idly will be forced into a federal solution that may or may not suit their needs or budgets. We look forward to working with the states to ensure that they receive a network equal to the promise made to public safety when FirstNet was created.”
While it’s unclear how many states will consider alternatives, FirstNet said during a board meeting Tuesday that it’s ready to move forward on its first-of-its-kind network, having worked over many years to get to this point.
Indeed, while the organization was prohibited from making the contractual award while the case worked its way through the court, other channels were chugging along such that FirstNet would be able to move forward as soon it got the green light. “We’re ready and able to move forward,” as soon as it’s permissible to do so, said Chairwoman Sue Swenson. “We’re more ready than ever.”
Wireless industry consultant Andrew Seybold, who has been a staunch public safety advocate, told FierceWirelessTech that he's hopeful the court ruling will finally permit FirstNet to award the RFP, "so that FirstNet, the Partner and the public safety community can get to the most important part of this mission: Getting the network up and operating."