Urgent Matters

What could go wrong? Here are some sources of potential unwanted delays in FirstNet deployment

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FirstNet's procurement includes an aggressive phased deployment plan throughout the United States. But there are several potential scenarios that could create unwanted delays.

FirstNet’s request for proposals (RFP) includes an aggressive deployment timeline with tangible benchmarks, beginning with nationwide non-Band 14 commercial-grade coverage six months after the procurement is awarded and culminating in a Band 14 700 MHz nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN) being operational in five years.

During the past two years, FirstNet has received plaudits from Congress and industry for meeting its publicly disclosed timeline goals associated with state consultations and the RFP itself. There have been a few delays—for instance, in the release of both the draft RFP and the final RFP, as well the deadline for bidding teams to submit proposals—but even these have been a matter of weeks, not several months.

But the potential for significant delays continues to exist. In fact, many argue that delays will be more likely as the FirstNet system gets closer to being operational and the impacts of decisions by all interested parties—FirstNet, offeror teams, all levels of government, public-safety entities and the telecommunications industries—become exponentially greater.

There are myriad potential sources for significant delays, including procurement protests, legal challenges, state opt-out decisions, financial matters and political/logistical issues. Almost never addressed directly in a public setting, such delays have been discussed privately almost from the establishment of FirstNet and have been the “elephant in the room” for many discussions addressing deployment and operational timeframes.

While most of these possibilities have always existed, relatively few people really examined them in detail until recently, because many questioned whether FirstNet would reach even a point where such decisions would have to be made.

Just a year ago, some doubted whether FirstNet would get its RFP issued in a timely manner. More important, few outsiders could envision a structure that would not leave serious questions about the long-term financial sustainability of FirstNet. When FirstNet fully addressed the sustainability issue in the RFP (the contractor is required to make annual payments to FirstNet throughout the 25-year term of the deal), some questioned whether any bidders would make a proposal and accept the sizeable risk associated with being the FirstNet contractor.

That concern was not an issue, as at least three bidding teams—led by AT&T, Rivada Mercury and pdvWireless—publicly announced their submissions. Two weeks ago, pdvWireless acknowledged that it had been removed from consideration. Most industry sources believe the bidding teams led by AT&T and Rivada Mercury remain in contention for the massive 25-year contract to build and maintain the NPSBN.

An interesting variable to the equation was AT&T’s announcement last week that it plans to buy Time Warner for $85.4 billion, with half of that figure being paid in cash. In the wake of the news, questions have been raised whether the FirstNet deployment—if the contract is awarded to AT&T—could be delayed for financial or regulatory reasons associated with the proposed merger.

Discuss this Blog Entry 1

BillP (not verified)
on Apr 18, 2017

so does everyone throw their P25 in the trash,and is DHS still funding P25??

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Insights from Donny Jackson concerning the most important news, trends and issues.

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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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