Verizon this week reversed its public stance and did not bid on California’s procurement seeking an alternative vendor to FirstNet in a potential “opt-out” scenario, citing “onerous” mandates from FirstNet and claiming that FirstNet and contractor AT&T are “rigging the game to stifle true competition.”

Last month, California issued a request for proposals (RFP) seeking vendors willing to build and maintain the LTE radio access network (RAN), if Gov. Jerry Brown decides to pursue the FirstNet “opt-out” alternative by the Dec. 28 deadline. The deadline for California bids was Wednesday. California officials told IWCE’s Urgent Communications that state policy prohibits the release of the number of bidders or the identity of bidders during an active procurement.

One thing that is clear about the California procurement is that Verizon did not submit a proposal, despite previous public statements from David Wiederecht—director of Verizon’s public-safety solutions group—that the carrier would make a proposal, if California initiated a procurement to select an alternative RAN contractor.

In a statement provided today to IWCE’s Urgent Communications, Verizon emphasized that it “remains committed to supporting public-safety customers and agencies in California and across the country” but the carrier decided not to make an alternative RAN bid in California.

“Unfortunately, after carefully and extensively reviewing the State of California's public-safety-network RFP requirements, we have chosen not to bid on the RFP,” Verizon said in its statement. “Technical and financial requirements dictated by FirstNet's draft spectrum management lease agreement (SMLA) saddled the state of California—through no fault of its own—with onerous and vaguely defined mandates in its RFP that impacted our ability to create a response we believe best served public safety and Verizon.

“Vigorous competition that allows the industry and the marketplace to continue to grow and innovate is in the best interest of public safety and should be everyone's shared goal. Instead, we believe FirstNet and its corporate partner are rigging the game in order to stifle true competition. 

“Our decision not to submit an RFP response in no way impacts our work with public safety customers in California. We continue to support them every day, as we have for decades, including actively working with public safety officials during the ongoing southern California wildfires.”

In response to a question from IWCE’s Urgent Communications, a Verizon spokesperson confirmed that one of the problematic FirstNet mandates is the requirement that all communications from FirstNet public-safety users in an “opt-out” state must be sent to the FirstNet LTE core network operated by AT&T.

“We're not prepared to have our public safety customers run on a network where we can't control their ability to connect or their customer experience,” according to the Verizon spokesperson.

In addition, the Verizon spokesperson state that the decision not to bid in California is not reflective of the carrier’s position in other states, noting that Verizon evaluates RFP opportunities related to FirstNet on a “case-by-case basis.”

California evaluators are scheduled to complete their review of the bids on Wednesday, Dec. 13. A winning vendor could be named on Dec. 29, if the state does not accept the FirstNet state plan to be executed by AT&T under an “opt-in” scenario.

Of course, the California RFP would result in an actual contract only if Gov. Jerry Brown were to make an “opt-out” decision by Dec. 28 and the state secures approvals from the FCC and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). In addition, the state would need to negotiate a spectrum management lease agreement (SMLA) with FirstNet.

AT&T was named as FirstNet’s nationwide contractor in March, being selected after winning a lengthy federal procurement in which Verizon declined to bid.

“Building a state-of-the art network that meets the needs of first responders is hard. Clearly, AT&T is up for the task,” Chris Sambar, AT&T’s senior vice president for FirstNet, said in a statement provided to IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “We’re noticing a pattern: Verizon says they have public safety’s back, but when it comes to the heavy lifting, they are nowhere to be found.”