Some things we don’t know yet that could impact FirstNet’s ultimate success (updated)
What is in this article?
Some things we don’t know yet that promise to impact FirstNet’s ultimate success
Will other parts of the government get involved in FirstNet? Aside from not receiving a bid for the RFP, FirstNet officials’ greatest concern may be that the judicial and legislative branches could get too involved in its initiative to deploy and operate the nationwide public-safety broadband network.
In the near term, everyone in FirstNet has been told to follow federal-procurement rules as closely as possible, in an effort to reduce the possibility that the award of the project is challenged in court, which potentially could delay system deployment for months or years, depending on the circumstances. Meanwhile, other issues—for instance, the aforementioned spectrum-cap question—also could be challenged in legal or regulatory arenas.
They also could be subjects of debate within Congress. FirstNet and public safety needs its private partner to be successful financially; if not, FirstNet will not be a self-sustaining entity, and the model falls apart. If it becomes clear that partnering with FirstNet is too beneficial to the carrier partner, no one will be surprised if other carriers lobby Congress for changes in the FirstNet package to restore competitive balance in the commercial marketplace.
On the other hand, if FirstNet’s partner discovers that the public-safety deal is a financial albatross that could lead to bankruptcy, will Congress simply allow the initiative to fail, given the importance of public-safety communications? If Congress does take action to “sweeten” the FirstNet deal—with federal funding, tax credits or other measures—competing carriers likely will complain, noting that they would have considered bidding differently if the new rules had been in place this year.
This is not a list of complete questions that will need to be addressed after the FirstNet RFP is released. Since writing last week’s column, multiple sources have acknowledged that rules limiting the legal liability of FirstNet’s partner need to be passed by lawmakers.
In addition, there are at least two other multilayered questions that are very intriguing. One is a long-term issue: What will happen to public safety’s 700/800 MHz spectrum, if FirstNet is successful? Another is a more pressing matter: How will FirstNet and next-generation 911 systems be integrated, and are there any operational/funding gaps that need to be addressed?
We’ll tackle these interesting queries in future columns.