FirstNet, ready to move forward, awaits court’s decision

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A first of its kind organization, FirstNet promises to deliver the latest technology for public safety organizations across the country.

Short of a court’s decision on a protest filed by Rivada Mercury, FirstNet is ready to hit the ground running to deploy the nation’s first broadband network devoted to public safety.

At a board meeting Tuesday, FirstNet Chair Sue Swenson said the organization is waiting for an outcome from the U.S. Court of Appeals of Federal Claims and will be ready to take whatever steps are necessary based on the court’s decision.

“We’re ready and able to move forward,” as soon as it’s permissible to do so, she said. “We’re more ready than ever.”

Despite the award being tied up in court—Rivada Mercury argued in November that its exclusion from the competitive process was arbitrary and capricious—FirstNet was able to move forward on other fronts, which it clearly has done based on updates provided by department heads during the board meeting.

Shortly after Rivada filed its protest, AT&T—the likely winner of the FirstNet contract—filed a motion to intervene in the case, which was granted by the court. The briefing with the court concluded in February as scheduled and oral argument occurred on March 3, according to Jason Karp, general counsel at FirstNet.

“All steps relating to the protest” have been completed,” and it’s now with the court, Karp told the board.  There was no injunctive order or temporary restraining order so FirstNet could move forward with activities short of making the actual award.

FirstNet will be prepared to react accordingly when it receives the court’s decision, which will happen “hopefully in the next several days,” Karp said.

For AT&T, getting the FirstNet business would mean a 25-year contract to use 20 megahertz of 700 MHz beachfront 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.

RELATED: Editor's Corner—AT&T likely to win FirstNet, but delays could hurt

While FirstNet awaits the court’s ruling, FirstNet CEO Mike Poth delivered some good news in terms of the kind of support the endeavor can expect to receive from President Trump’s administration. FirstNet had the opportunity to provide a briefing to newly confirmed Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross on his second day on the job, and Ross expressed his commitment to make sure FirstNet is a success.

“The secretary of Commerce and this entire administration is very excited about FirstNet and has committed to do everything they can to continue to ensure its success,” Poth told the board. It’s so significant that Ross, in his first speech to all employees in the Commerce Department, identified FirstNet as one of his top three priorities.  

That kind of support is refreshing for the FirstNet organization in its quest to provide a dedicated public safety network, which has been years in the making, and it hasn’t always been clear how the new administration would view the project.

For much of last year, FirstNet had indicated it wanted to make an award by the end of the year, but Poth announced in late October that FirstNet would continue to execute the acquisition process outlined in the RFP beyond the Nov. 1 target date. Poth promised Tuesday that the organization will be communicating with states and other stakeholders as soon as they learn the court’s decision.