Urgent Matters

Uncertain delays create timing issues for states, public safety in preparation for FirstNet

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FirstNet officials say they are ready to proceed, but states and first-responder agencies are awaiting the outcome of a legal proceeding to get a better understanding of the timing issues they may need to address related to the much-anticipated nationwide public-safety broadband network. 

During the FirstNet board meeting last month, officials made it clear that FirstNet is ready to begin taking the steps necessary to transition to deployment and operational tasks as soon as its procurement for a nationwide contractor is completed.

Of course, what is not clear is when the procurement will be done and a nationwide contract awarded, as the procurement process is the subject of a legal proceeding before the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. In the case, the Rivada Mercury bidding team—led by Rivada Networks—claims that its proposal was wrongly excluded from the procurement’s “competitive range,” which apparently includes only AT&T’s bidding team.

The award date is important, because that critical event is the one that starts the “clock” for many timeline-oriented tasks cited in the FirstNet request for proposals (RFPs).

Chief among these is the dissemination of FirstNet’s deployment plans for each state and territory, which the RFP indicates will be done within six months of the award. The state-plan distribution date—FirstNet officials have said each state plan will be available to the appropriate governor at the same time—launches a 90-day window in which the FirstNet state plan is accepted or the challenging “opt-out” alternative is pursued.

When will FirstNet make its nationwide contractor award, so stakeholders can better plan for some of these subsequent timelines? We know that an award announcement would not happen before March 1, based on an agreement cited in a legal filing.

In addition, every legal and industry source interviewed believes FirstNet would not make an award announcement before this first legal challenge results in a ruling supporting the decision by the evaluation team—working with a contracting officer from the U.S. Department of Interior—to exclude Rivada Mercury from the “competitive range” stage of the procurement.

If such a ruling is given, the earliest timeframe likely would be in late February, based on the current briefing schedule for the case. If Rivada Mercury decided not appeal such a ruling, the FirstNet board could accept the contracting officer’s recommendation for the nationwide contractor—presumably AT&T—and make an award quickly. (Legally, the FirstNet board is not obligated to accept the recommendation and grant an award; however, taking any other action would be very problematic for the organization, from a practical standpoint).

The above scenario is the simplest and quickest one, possibly resulting in an award announcement sometime in March or April, which could lead to state-plan distribution in the fall and governors making decisions whether to “opt-out” as early as the end of this year or early in 2018.

It is possible that FirstNet and its contractor could be in a position to compress the six-month period between the award announcement and state-plan distribution cited in the RFP. After all, that six-month timeframe is supposed to be a maximum period, and it is possible that FirstNet could have final state plans ready in less time, particularly if more work on the state plans can be completed during legal delays.

Discuss this Blog Entry 2

on Jan 11, 2017

While I disagree with FirstNet as a project and on principle this is no great surprise. In my long career in mission critical electronics it has been my experience that any time the federal government is involved in any sort of project there will be issues, cost over-runs, fraud, waste, and abuse. The fact that a vendor is not selected almost always prompts this kind of response. The fact that they are protesting this "award" so to speak clearly indicates that their legal team believes that they were wrongfully excluded. Nothing like losing a spot at the government trough to get the sharks involved. Sadly, all of the legalisms aside, FirstNet will likely be used by the state(s) to further oppress citizens and to ensure the dominance of governments jackboots.

Concerned 1st Responder (not verified)
on Jan 11, 2017

Is there a list of states that have already chosen to opt-out of this program? It seems with all the delays that states would just stay away from the program all together.

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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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