New Hampshire considers opting out of FirstNet

Firefighters public safety firstnet AT&T (FirstNet)
New Hampshire is among several states considering opting out of the network being built by FirstNet and AT&T.

New Hampshire is considering becoming the first state to opt out of FirstNet.

AT&T earlier this year won 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.

Twenty-seven states and territories have verbally committed to using the network, and final decisions—which will be legally binding—must be made by Dec. 28. But roughly a dozen have issued requests for proposals from potential competitors such as Verizon, Rivada Networks and Southern Linc.

And New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu Monday signed an executive order establishing an “Opt-Out Review Committee” that will consider the regulatory and financial risks should the state choose not to participate.

“New Hampshire’s Statewide Interoperability Executive Committee (SIEC) has determined from a technical standpoint that an opt-out of FirstNet is far and away our best option, as evidenced by their unanimous 15-0 vote,” Sununu said in a press release announcing the order. “The State must nevertheless conduct a thorough review of the financial and regulatory viability of Rivada’s opt-out plan. As part of this review, we will seek clarification of certain proposed fees, as well as clarification of penalties that may be imposed by FirstNet if an opt-out were to fail.”

Industry insiders generally believe FirstNet will ink deals with the vast majority of states, but a handful of smaller states could sign on with a competing service provider, said Ken Rehbehn, a former firefighter and EMT who founded CritComm Insights, where he serves as principal analyst.

“I think that there’s actually an effort to look at an alternative rather than just accept what the offer is from FirstNet,” Rehbehn told FierceWireless last week. “My belief is that nearly all states will be opting in—the offer in terms of coverage is pretty strong from AT&T … (But) you might see two states, three states (opting out). That’s not that big of a deal; the core network will still be FirstNet’s core” because of the rules regarding interoperability.

Competition to provide wireless services to first responders is increasing, however: Rivada is fighting for a piece of the market and is responding to states that issue RFPs seeking vendors willing to build and maintain a statewide public safety radio access network that would be interoperable with FirstNet’s service. And Verizon is also pursuing the market in a big way, vowing recently to build and operate its own “private network core” that will operate separately from its commercial core but will enable emergency workers to access its LTE network.