FirstNet last week released its second set of answers to questions about the request for proposal (RFP) that include 33 changes to the RFP on topics that include rural partnerships, cybersecurity, definitions, payment timing and a host of processes and administrative items.

One of the most-discussed aspects of the FirstNet RFP is a stipulation that mandates that the selected contractor to forge partnerships with rural providers to fulfill at least 15% of the rural-coverage requirement outlined in FirstNet’s enabling legislation, or “the Act.” That partnership must be with a rural telecommunications provider, not an entity like a rural electric cooperative, according to an answer provided in this second set of 122 questions.

“FirstNet interprets a ‘rural provider’ or ‘rural telecommunications provider’ to mean an entity that provides either exclusively or the vast majority of its telecommunications or broadband services in a geographic area that falls within the definition of the term ‘rural’ as defined in the Act as interpreted by FirstNet,” the answer states.

Another definition clarified in the answers is what constitutes “excess network capacity” that can be used to sell commercial services on a secondary basis to help the contractor fund the buildout and operation of the nationwide FirstNet system.

“Excess network capacity is defined as capacity not used by public-safety entities (PSEs),” according to the answer.

However, the answers do not specify what qualifies as a public-safety entity, other than to state that it must meet the definition provided in the 2012 law establishing FirstNet, despite the fact that FirstNet conducted two public proceedings in an attempt to create consensus on the issue. In the RFP, FirstNet does designated that law enforcement, fire and EMS are considered to be the “primary user group,” and other undefined public-safety entities are classified as being in an “extended primary user group.”

Another answer noted that the amount of debt that an offeror has will be one factor that will be evaluated when assessing bids.

“Any debt will be considered as part of an Offeror's financial history and will be considered in the evaluation of financial standing,” an answer states before citing language in the RFP. “’The evaluation will consist of a determination and analysis of … risks of each proposed solution. Risk will be included in the evaluation of each factor (and/or sub-factors) and will not be evaluated as a separate factor.’

“Therefore, this would include and consider any/all proposal information submitted when assessing any risks based on the Offeror’s proposed solution with regard to financial standing (e.g., debt).”

Another financial aspect addressed in these answers involves the timing of payments that the contractor makes to FirstNet. Under the terms of the RFP, FirstNet will pay the contractor $6.5 billion to help fund the network buildout, and the contractor would make as much as 25 years of annual payments to FirstNet, with different totals assigned to each of the 56 states and territories.