During IWCE 2017 last week, representatives of these states and others noted the fact that the law creating FirstNet requires governors to make their opt-out decisions 90 days after receiving the FirstNet state plan, and—if pursuit of the “opt-out” alternative is chosen by the governor—180 days to complete the RFP process and present an alternative plan to the FCC for interoperability review.

None of the states have stated publicly any intention to pursue the “opt-out” alternative, but officials in these states have noted that the procurement process takes so long that it is impractical to complete an RFP process within the 180-day window provided by law. Given this, many of the states have started the RFP process early, with New Hampshire already selecting Rivada Networks as its vendor

FirstNet board member Kevin McGinnis said he understands the dilemma faced by state officials trying to preserve the opt-out option for their governors.

“Let me say something that may be sort of heresy—or would have been several months ago,” McGinnis said during IWCE’s final town-hall session last Thursday. “I think our response to the New Hampshires of the world that wanted to go out and develop RFIs or RFPs and develop an alternative plan was somehow anti-FirstNet or not good—it was a bad thing, it was a challenge. Now, it’s a new day with a newly changed situation. I think we’re all going to have to start looking at what that 90-day, 180-day limitation—which is in the law—says and how that’s going to impact states and their decision making.”

McGinnis said the cases made by representatives from states like New Hampshire and Alabama were compelling, based on the time limitations dictated in the law that established FirstNet.

“Their point is not to say, ‘We don’t want FirstNet,’” he said. “Their point is to say, ‘We need to do due diligence and have something to compare with whatever comes out of FirstNet.’ I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. I think some states’ governors will insist on that. In some states where the governors don’t [insist on an RFP or RFI], others may question it. I guess my point is that starting to do your RFP work now or developing a plan now to compare with is not necessarily a stupid thing.

“What I can say from FirstNet’s point of view, though, is we will continue—through the state-plan development process—to be working with the same people who will be evaluating those plans and alternative plans. Hopefully, as Chief Johnson [FirstNet Vice Chairman Jeff Johnson] has said, by the time that plan lands on your desk—whether you have an alternative to that or not—it’s your plan as much as it is FirstNet’s plan, and there shouldn’t be any big surprises in it.”