Urgent Matters

FirstNet deserves kudos for high-profile role since RFP release, including at IWCE 2016

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When FirstNet released its RFP in January, some industry observers expected the organization to go silent, in an effort to avoid missteps that might result in a legal challenge. Thankfully, that has not been the case, with the latest example being FirstNet's robust participation in sessions at IWCE 2016.

LAS VEGAS—Throughout FirstNet’s procurement process, organization officials have stressed the importance of conducting a request-for-proposal (RFP) process that is not tainted by conflict-of-interest issues or other integrity questions that could lead to a legal protest that might delay deployment of the proposed nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN).

Given this, there was some speculation that FirstNet might “go into hiding”—a phrase that FirstNet CEO Mike Poth used during his keynote address at IWCE 2016 last Wednesday—after releasing its RFP in January. After all, the best way to avoid making a misstatement is to say nothing at all.

Indeed, it must have been tempting for government lawyers and procurement officials to order FirstNet officials to go silent throughout the RFP period, just to be on the safe side. FirstNet certainly does not want to give potential RFP protesters unnecessary legal ammunition by making misstatements, but I’m not sure that there are any measures will prevent an entity that is intent on protesting this procurement from doing so.

Perhaps with this in mind, FirstNet has embarked on an informational push during the past two months that has been quite remarkable, with the most recent step being participation in numerous IWCE 2016 sessions.

Some risk-management experts may disagree with this approach, but it was clear throughout the week that many key stakeholders attending IWCE appreciated the fact that FirstNet has opted to remain publicly engaged. In fact, the biggest complaint from stakeholders was that they have been going bleary-eyed from all the information that FirstNet has provided, from the 500-page RFP to several hundred pages of clarifying amendments in response to questions and answers.

In the IWCE sessions I attended, FirstNet officials seemed to do an excellent job of navigating potentially dicey questions about the RFP. The IWCE audience also deserves some credit here: for the most part, audience participants clearly understood the situation and avoided RFP-sensitive questions. Sure, there were a few questions that generated some carefully worded answers from FirstNet officials, but there certainly was not an endless litany of “no comment” responses that some may have anticipated when IWCE week began.

The lively dialog throughout the week underscored a reality that FirstNet officials have reiterated for years: there’s a lot more to this NPSBN initiative than the RFP. Yes, without a successful RFP process, there is no network. But relatively few people are in a position to participate in the RFP process, while exponentially more will help make decisions associated with state consultation, the opt-out process, public-safety subscription to the network and operational issues regarding use of the FirstNet system.

And there is plenty to discuss on each of these topics, which was evident during the entire IWCE week. Each of those discussions was enhanced greatly by the participation of FirstNet officials, because they added much-needed clarity and legitimacy to the conversations.

FirstNet legitimately could have opted to go into a shell until a contractor is selected, but the organization should be applauded for resisting the temptation. Such tactics would not ensure that the RFP process escapes protest, but going silent almost certainly would result in misunderstandings and misinformation permeating throughout the stakeholder community that could be even more damaging than protest litigation in the long run.

FirstNet’s continued outreach—at IWCE 2016 and elsewhere—is helping to fuel momentum in the public-safety community that will be needed to make this massive endeavor a success.

 

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Donny Jackson

Donny Jackson is editor of Urgent Communications magazine. Before joining UC in 2002, he covered telecommunications for four years as a freelance writer and as news editor for Telephony magazine....
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