AT&T, FirstNet trigger backlash from Rivada over states’ core networks

public safety
Rivada says FirstNet devoted a substantial portion of its June 5 ex parte filing to asserting that a state operating its own RAN must use the FirstNet core.

Rivada Networks, which is still trying to compete for states’ FirstNet business, is countering statements by AT&T and FirstNet about how states’ roles in the nation’s public safety network should be interpreted.

After a years-long process, FirstNet awarded the nationwide contract to AT&T in March after a federal claims court rejected Rivada’s argument that it was wrongly excluded from the bidding process. Since then, Rivada has continued to respond to states that issue RFPs seeking input from vendors willing to build and maintain a statewide public safety LTE radio access network (RAN) that would be interoperable with FirstNet’s network.  

In its June 12 filing (PDF) with the FCC, Rivada argues that the Public Safety Spectrum Act sets out to deliberately avoid past problems of locking public safety into a limited set of stove-piped, proprietary and “ultimately obsolete” communications technologies.

RELATED: Rivada fights on, aims to provide states with alternative to AT&T’s FirstNet

Rivada says FirstNet devoted a substantial portion of its June 5 ex parte filing to asserting that a state operating its own RAN must use the FirstNet core. FirstNet appears to be asserting without explicitly stating “that its core elements can be the only core used to provide any core functions,” Rivada said. “That is not what the Act says. If actually implemented, such a narrow restriction would render opt-out meaningless.”

Essentially, it would “constrain a state to running nothing more than a collection of unintelligent and unmanaged radios and towers, strung together by transmission facilities, and thus preclude states from exercising local control over quality of service, priority, and pre-emption in their territory, a feature that FirstNet otherwise touts as a key benefit of the nationwide, interoperable public safety broadband network,” the company continued. “… In all, accepting FirstNet’s very narrow and unsupported reading of what the Act allows would create the very situation that the FCC rightly seeks to avoid—rendering opt-out a 'false choice' contrary to the plain language of the Act.”

In fact, the act never bars a state from operating elements of a core network and it doesn’t say anything about state core elements at all, according to Rivada. “AT&T and FirstNet both seek to interpret this silence as a ban on state-operated public-safety cores, but this conclusion defies both modern LTE network management practices and common sense. The Act does require FirstNet to construct a core network—which FirstNet would have to do in order to ensure that there could be a nationwide public safety broadband network in any state in which the state did not operate the RAN.”

“States should be free to contract with FirstNet for any or all ‘core services,’ as provided for in the Act,” said Rivada in the ex parte signed by co-CEOs Declan Ganley and Joseph Euteneuer, former CFO at Sprint. “But nothing in the Act compels them to do so if they choose to provision those services to their own first responders, using only a more limited set of FirstNet core elements, provided only that the state’s solution is interoperable with FirstNet’s. This is not as difficult as AT&T or FirstNet would have the Commission, Congress, and the states believe.”

RELATED: FirstNet officials 'confident' states see its appeal as kickoff meeting wraps up

It’s been a bit of an uphill battle for Rivada Networks. The company lost out on a deal to supply a network in Mexico last year and Rivada Mercury, a partnership of companies created specifically to bid on the FirstNet project in the U.S., was nixed from the bidding process after a judge ruled in favor of FirstNet.

APCO International, the world’s largest organization of public safety communications professionals, has come out against states opting out of the nationwide FirstNet plan. Its government relations executive Jeff Cohen posted a blog last month blasting attempts to convince states to opt out.

“The ink was barely dry on the FirstNet legislation when vendors and consultants began preying on states to convince them to opt-out, often with false promises of revenue from monetizing the spectrum dedicated to public safety,” he wrote. “These businesses see more profit in keeping public safety divided than helping to achieve the goals of the FirstNet legislation.”

“I understand that when faced with deciding whether to accept FirstNet’s proposed RAN plan or attempt to opt-out, states want that decision to be based on a well-informed comparison of the options,” Cohen said. “But I don’t see any scenario in which pursuing an alternative RAN build benefits a state’s citizens or its first responders.”

The FCC is set to consider a Report and Order that establishes the procedures and standards the commission will use to review alternative plans submitted by states seeking to "opt-out" of the FirstNet network and to build their own RANs at its next open meeting on June 22.