FirstNet will issue RFI, kick off public comment period at next board meeting

LAS VEGAS--The First Responder Network Authority will release a request for information (RFI) at its Sept. 17 board meeting and will also announce a public comment-and-notice period, through which FirstNet will seek input on issues such as whether FirstNet access should be expanded beyond public-safety users, according to Ed Parkinson, FirstNet's director of government affairs.

Parkinson made the announcement during a presentation at the Competitive Carriers' Association convention, held in conjunction with CTIA's Super Mobility Week.

He said the RFI will include a statement of objectives regarding the planned nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN) being planned by FirstNet, and will ask a number of detailed questions focused on the core, radio access network (RAN), security and partnerships. In particular, FirstNet is encouraging rural carriers and rural communities to identify partnerships that will provide FirstNet with options for when it comes time to award contracts for the network, Parkinson said.

Regarding the public comment-and-notice period, Parkinson said all parties, including the general public, will be invited to weigh in on whether non-first responders, such as utility companies, should be able to access the FirstNet network. FirstNet will also seek comments on what constitutes a "rural" community vs. urban, suburban or wilderness.

Parkinson noted that the input received from the RFI will help shape FirstNet's acquisition strategy, which will include a request for proposals (RFP). Once the RFI and RFP processes are concluded, FirstNet will begin the opt-in, opt-out process for the states, which will have to decide whether to opt in and pay to access the FirstNet network or opt out and either build their own public-safety LTE network by using FirstNet's 700 MHz, Band 14 spectrum and linking to the FirstNet core or simply go without a dedicated public-safety broadband network at 700 MHz. He said that final option is not seen as being very likely.

FirstNet hopes to move quickly through the RFP process so that states will be able to make their opt-in, opt-out decision as soon as they can. "I think a lot of people thought that opt-in/opt-out decision would happen in 2016, but we certainly think that will move up much quicker to potentially sometime next year," Parkinson said. Once FirstNet moves through the RFI and RFP processes, it should be able calculate what the costs will be for states that opt-in to use the FirstNet system.

"It's the vendor community that is going to dictate the best way this is going to be built," Parkinson said. He noted contracts for the network will be subject to a competitive process and will have to follow federal acquisition regulations.

Parkinson noted a high-level priority through 2014 has been to hire FirstNet employees. FirstNet is up to 78 full-time employees, more than 20 contractors and a few detailees. The authority is about to kick off the hiring of 10 regional teams, which will include "subject matter experts," including people with public-safety experience, "to ensure that there is local buy-in," he said.

Parkinson observed that with fall elections coming up, the FirstNet single points of contact for certain states could be subject to change if new administrations come in. That means FirstNet's earlier efforts to educate previous state administrations regarding its mission would likely fall by the wayside and the authority would have to start from scratch to educate the newcomers.

In other news, FirstNet has launched an official YouTube channel and a multimedia section on the website.

The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 created FirstNet to build, operate and maintain the first high-speed LTE-based NPSBN.

For more:
- see this FirstNet public notice (PDF) and this blog post

Related articles:
Dowd, Fitzgerald are out as FirstNet board gains five new members
Charlotte, N.C.'s CIO divulges why the city did not gain access to FirstNet spectrum
FirstNet: Costs, deployment details will become clearer in 2015
FirstNet seeking LTE network director, as some states dawdle on planning

Article updated Sept. 11, 2014, to clarify details regarding the RFI and RFP sequencing.