Urgent Matters

Why public safety should be excited by FirstNet’s prospects, despite potential delays

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Rivada Mercury is suing to protest its removal from consideration for the FirstNet procurement, noting the strengths of its proposal. Now that the evaluation team has deemed that Rivada Mercury's proposal is not in the "competitive range," it is intriguing to consider how good AT&T's offer may be.

It has been six months since offeror teams answered FirstNet’s request for proposals (RFP) by submitting bids to build and operate the much-anticipated nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN). Since then, little information has become available about the procurement process—as it should be with acquisitions.

That changed dramatically with Rivada Mercury’s Nov. 21 lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims that protests the evaluation team’s determination that the Rivada Mercury proposal was not good enough to be included in the “competitive range”—the final federal procurement stage where only the “most highly rated” proposals are considered.

In October, pdvWireless revealed that its Code3 Broadband bidding team had been eliminated from consideration prior to the “competitive range” stage. Rivada Mercury—a consortium led by Rivada Mercury—states in its lawsuit that it was informed of its elimination from consideration on the same day as pdvWireless. A key aspect of the Rivada Mercury lawsuit is that only one offeror team is in the “competitive range”—a circumstance that prevents the government from maximizing the procurement process, according to the lawsuit.

All signs indicate that the bidding team is headed by AT&T is the lone offeror in the “competitive range.” In an SEC filing last Friday, AT&T stated that it has been informed that it is in the competitive range and that “AT&T is not aware of any other bidders who remain within the ‘competitive range’ of the First Responder Network procurement.”

Theoretically, it is possible that some entity could put a bid together without anyone knowing about it, but it’s extremely unlikely, according to every source I’ve interviewed about the topic (and I’ve spoken to a bunch, in part because of my hunch—apparently wrong—that Verizon would get involved significantly in a FirstNet bid).

More important, both Rivada Mercury and AT&T have stated in official documents that they do not know of any other bidders. The FirstNet initiative is a massive initiative, and the LTE community is not that large—there are only so many vendors that can supply the products needed to support this project—so it is hard to imagine that a bid strong enough to qualify for the “competitive range” could be prepared without others becoming aware.

In other words, AT&T is the choice of the evaluation team for the procurement, which is being conducted by the U.S. Department of Interior. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson today noted the company’s position.

“There were three companies, to our knowledge, competing [for the FirstNet contract],” Stephenson said during the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference. “One of them has recently announced that they were no longer a contender. One of them, the government said, was not in the competitive range—that company has now sued the government to contest that finding. And then we have been told that we are within the competitive range.

“And so, we feel like we're in a good place in terms of competing for this business, and we think it’s important.”

Does this mean AT&T’s team will get the nationwide FirstNet award? Not quite. AT&T certainly is the heavy favorite, but there still are many hurdles to clear before the prize of a FirstNet contract can be awarded.

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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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