FirstNet launches Q&A page amid increasing concerns from states

FirstNet banner (monica alleven)
States have until Dec. 28 to decide whether to opt out of FirstNet's offering.

FirstNet and AT&T responded to complaints about a lack of transparency by launching a webpage offering more detailed information about its plans to build a wireless network dedicated to first responders.

“Engaging with our stakeholders has and always will be central to everything we do at FirstNet,” FirstNet CEO Mike Poth wrote in a blog post published late Friday. “Our longstanding consultation and outreach program sets us apart from other organizations, companies, and entities that work with or do business with public policy.”

While FirstNet has garnered commitments from 27 states and territories vowing to use its network, 18 other states have submitted RFPs (requests for proposals) from competing vendors. New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu earlier this month signed an executive order establishing an “opt-out review committee” that will examine the regulatory and financial risks to the state were it to decide not to go with FirstNet’s offering.

States have until Dec. 28 to decide whether to opt out of FirstNet’s offering. Those that don’t actively opt out will automatically be enrolled in FirstNet’s program.

Among other things, states are questioning spectrum manager lease agreements—SMLAs—that include hefty payments for opting out or terminating its agreement if they aren’t able to meet FirstNet’s technical requirements. Pennsylvania, for instance, would reportedly pay nearly $1 billion over 25 years to lease spectrum from FirstNet if it opted out, according to a recent report from Urgent Communications, and billions more if it didn’t meet technical and operational obligations. Similarly, California officials said opting out would require “an unrealistic number of subscriptions/connections” as well as nearly $3 billion in spectrum lease payments and more than $15 billion in penalties.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Commerce 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.

Verizon and Rivada Networks, among others, are positioning themselves as alternatives to FirstNet, and Rivada took direct aim at AT&T and FirstNet last week at the CCA trade show outside Dallas, with one member of Rivada’s board of directors referring to FirstNet’s proposal as “third-world thuggery.”

FirstNet Facts, as the new page is titled, offers information to states regarding topics such as the ramifications of opting out, and the terms and conditions of SMLAs.

“We’ll continue to make ourselves available to ensure states and territories have what they need to determine the best network solution for public safety and the communities they serve, because that’s what this decision is all about: Providing public safety the lifesaving communication tools it needs – now and into the future,” Poth wrote in his blog post.

Whether that post will assuage the concerns of the many states that remain on the fence is far from clear.