April 19, 2016 — FirstNet has pushed back the deadline for proposals for the deployment of the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network by two and a half weeks, from May 13 to May 31, 2016. FirstNet initially issued its Request for Proposals for the network on January 13 of this year.
The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) was created by Congress in the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012. The goal of FirstNet is to deploy a nationwide public safety network. FirstNet has three elements that are necessary for a nationwide network, according to Anna M. Gomez, a partner at the Wiley Rein law firm in Washington.
Gomez spoke in March at the Network Infrastructure Forum in Las Vegas. From 2009 to 2013, she was deputy assistant secretary for communications and information at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce. She was with NTIA when it created FirstNet, and she played a role in that creation.
“The first element Congress gave FirstNet is access to 20 megahertz of 700-MHz spectrum,” Gomez said. The spectrum has a few narrowband users in it, and FirstNet is in the process of clearing those users. The second element is $7 billion in seed funding for the nationwide network. And the third element is governance, which Congress established by creating FirstNet as an independent authority housed within NTIA.
“The FirstNet network has to be secure, hardened and ubiquitous to meet the needs of public safety,” Gomez said. “It has to build a single core network and a radio access network. It is supposed to use existing commercial, state, local and tribal infrastructure.”
In January, FirstNet issued its request for proposals (RFP) from potential builders and operators for its network, and responses are due this month. Gomez said FirstNet is going to issue a single award and, therefore, it wants bids for a nationwide comprehensive solution. The FirstNet RFP is objectives-based, not requirements-based, and Gomez said that means FirstNet stated 16 objectives that it wants bidders to meet and gave bidders the flexibility to figure out how to do so. “It’s a way to encourage innovation from bidders, more so than a requirements-based RFP,” she said.
Excess Network Capacity
FirstNet has about $6.5 billion to pay for network deployment, and Gomez said it will allow the winning bidder to keep fees it generates from providing service to public safety or, on a secondary basis, to other users. In exchange for that, the winning bidder will have access to the excess network capacity from FirstNet. The winning bidder will have to make annual payments to FirstNet for the excess network capacity that it uses during the 25-year term of the contract. FirstNet is not allowed to compete directly via retail offerings to consumers.
The authority has to fund itself through fees, reinvest excess revenue in the network, and consult with states, territories and tribes. States can decide to deploy their own radio access networks, opting out of the nationwide network.
Consultation and Selling
Gomez said although FirstNet has been consulting with and will continue to consult with the states, territories and tribes as part of its statutory obligation, the consultation also is part of its effort to sell its deployment plan to each of the states. In their responses to the RFP, the bidders are supposed to reveal their plans on a state-by-state and territory-by-territory basis.
FirstNet intends to award the contract around Nov. 1, with the first task of providing plans for state and territorial deployment due about six months later. The FirstNet network is to achieve 100 percent coverage within five years of award. The authority wants to initially operate as a mobile virtual network operator and eventually transition to the 700-MHz spectrum, which is called Band 14.
No Mandate to Buy Service
There is no mandate that public safety entities at the local, state or federal level must buy service from FirstNet. Gomez said that means FirstNet needs to provide a network that meets the needs of public safety in an affordable manner. Although the RFP doesn’t have it as a requirement, FirstNet anticipates that some type of satellite communications will have to be used to serve rural areas that cannot be reached otherwise.
It will be up to the winning bidder to commercialize the use of excess network capacity without leaving its customers dissatisfied when public safety agency use of the network peaks during emergencies, necessitating some limits on non-public safety access. “Public safety gets to use the network all of the time,” Gomez said. “Different levels of preemption will be required, depending on the emergency. It would take an extraordinary incident to completely shut down commercial access.”
Land Mobile Radio
Meanwhile, there is no mandate for public safety agencies to stop using land mobile radio systems. Gomez said the FirstNet network will be a data network, and voice communication would continue on land mobile radio. “There is a push to formulate standards to support mission-critical voice communication on the national broadband network, but the necessary standards are nowhere near becoming a reality,” she said. “At that point, I’m sure there will be discussions about continued land mobile radio use from a policy perspective.”
If FirstNet awards the contract on Nov. 1, the state and territorial deployment plans will follow about May 1, 2017, with opt-in decisions by states due about July 2017, the first coverage milestone of 20 percent coverage for Band 14 set for Nov. 1, 2017, and 100 percent coverage to be achieved about November 2021.
The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) Board last week approved the Request for Proposal (RFP) to deploy the nationwide public safety broadband network (NPSBN). The RFP will be released in early January.
“We engaged in an open and transparent process to develop this RFP from the start and met our goal of completing it by the end of the year. I commend the Board and FirstNet staff for their dedication. I also recognize the valuable contributions of our stakeholders who provided us with feedback every step of the way,” FirstNet Vice Chair Jeff Johnson said. “FirstNet is looking forward to receiving competitive offerings from industry to build the network.”
The RFP includes a national acquisition approach that creates opportunities for national and regional partnerships, which incorporate rural telecommunications providers, to build and operate the NPSBN.
The FirstNet RFP is objectives-based and incorporates public safety’s needs for a nationwide broadband network. To form the RFP, FirstNet issued multiple requests for information, public notices, and special notices for public comment. FirstNet also collected vital stakeholder feedback on the RFP documents through consultation and outreach with public safety partners nationwide.
“One of the drivers for the creation of FirstNet is the need for interoperable communications among public safety users from different agencies,” wrote Mark Golaszewski, FirstNet director of applications, in a blog. “FirstNet’s strategy for maximizing interoperability across the nationwide public safety broadband network is to leverage, to the greatest extent possible, open, standards-based solutions for: network infrastructure and services and data access and applications.”
FirstNet will rely heavily on standards set by the Third-generation Partnership Project. However, standards do not currently exist for data and applications.
“Given the diversity of unique network, data, and applications solutions that exist for over 60,000 public safety agencies, FirstNet cannot ensure that all users will be able to access or interoperate across all legacy solutions,” Golaszewski wrote. “However, by driving toward open, standards-based solutions, FirstNet envisions vastly improving the public safety user experience when it comes to new communications services, data access, and applications.”
July 16, 2015 — With all the conversation surrounding the FCC’s 600-MHz incentive spectrum auction, the upcoming bidding process for 20 megahertz of D Block 700-MHz spectrum to be used in the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) has been somewhat overshadowed, according to Jennifer Fritzsche, senior analyst, Well Fargo.
“This could be a huge opportunity for one of the carriers. While this is not being talked about much now, we expect it to play a big part in the spectrum conversation in the second half of 2015,” Fritzsche wrote.
The FCC is expected to release the final request for proposal at the end of this year or the beginning of next with the winning carrier to be selected from those bids. The winner will build, operate and maintain the first nationwide wireless broadband network for emergency and public safety communications. FirstNet will reside on 20,000 to 40,000 towers, according to one estimate.
“Barring a national emergency, we estimate the spectrum will be less than 1 percent penetrated by public safety needs, which provides the winner with access to that excess capacity,” wrote Fritzsche.
AT&T and Verizon are in the best position to build FirstNet, according to Fritzsche, because of the scale of the project and the carriers’ existing 700-MHz spectrum assets. Because FirstNet will be giving $6.5 billion in seed money to the winner, Fritzsche does not believe the FirstNet bidding process will affect participation in the broadcast incentive auction.
The FirstNet public safety broadband network may be nationwide, but its roots are going to be local. As it plans the network, the First Responder Network Authority is in listen mode for the next six months to learn about local public safety needs, Ed Parkinson, FirstNet director of government affairs, told an audience on June 19, during the AGL Conference in Washington, D.C.
“We’re going to be working very, very diligently to understand what works in Maryland and how that’s different from what’s needed in Florida, what’s important in Texas and how that’s different from what’s needed in Alaska,” Parkinson said. “This network — it’s not going to be a one size fits all. It’s really going to be focused on local problems and local solutions.”
The state consultation process is a 45-step process, which leads to the final decision that a governor has to make as to whether to opt in or opt out of the network.
“This is very much a state- and local-driven initiative,” Parkinson said. “The state’s going to decide what kind of coverage they want. They’re going to decide the number of users, how those users are going to look within that state.” The initial state consultation begins at the end of July, and all 56 state and territorial consultations are slated for completion by the end of December this year.
Rural America is one of the key constituencies that FirstNet has been tasked to ensure has coverage, and it has multiple rural milestones that it must accomplish.
“And frankly, there are going to be a lot of fascinating opportunities for rural telecom in their work with FirstNet in providing coverage,” Parkinson said.
In terms of procurement, FirstNet has committed to completing a draft RFP for a comprehensive network solution by the end of this year.
“This is to identify what sort of network partnership we’re going to be able to identify and really see how fully comprehensive it’s going to be,” Parkinson said. “A second RFP will follow a few months later regarding equipment and services. And so there’s going to be a lot of very, very detailed information coming out from FirstNet over the next few months.”
Black & Veatch has been active in this space and is working on planning with multiple states to help them evaluate the opportunities and respond to FirstNet.
“So we’ve helped a variety of states look at the economic needs they might have to fund these kinds of networks, helped them look at their coverage and capacity issues and also understand how they’re going to integrate multiple agencies within their state in using this system,” said Marty Travers, president, telecommunications, Black & Veatch.
Helping with the planning process leaves Black & Veatch well positioned to assist the states when it’s time to deploy the FirstNet network, Travers said.
“It’s an aggressive schedule that’s been worked at,” he said. “And oftentimes, various states need help in maintaining that kind of pace and they often look to consultants like us to help them with that.”
For the tower engineering and construction business, FirstNet will offer opportunities, but it is unclear who the customer is going to be. It may be FirstNet or the state directly, and at other times it could be a wireless carrier.
“The good news is there is going to be a radio access network that’s going to be built in potentially multiple different flavors depending on what the states are going to do and how they’re going to do it,” Travers said. “But all of us who design towers, acquire property rights for towers, install equipment, and integrate and commission networks are going to have a role to play in making that radio access network operate and getting the data back to the core FirstNet database.”
Through the Middle Class Tax Relief Act, Congress created the First Responder Network Authority, which has a budget of $7 billion and 20 megahertz of dedicated 700-MHz spectrum, which guarantees collaboration with carriers that will lease some of the spectrum and tower owners that will lease tower space.
“I don’t think Congress is going to give us any more than that especially at this time in the political world,” Parkinson said. “The spectrum … is really the biggest feather in our cap. This is the most valuable asset that we have, and it’s one that we’re certainly going to be working to extract the most value out of.”
Lori Stone, State of Maryland broadband coordinator, agreed, “It’s coming, but $7 billion only goes so far. And we know that the tower operators will play a part in this somehow. So we want to make sure that you’re engaged with us early on.”
Mark Muratore, AT&T mobile applications consultant, was hopeful that FirstNet would provide a bridge between the individual carriers and help them to learn to interoperate.
“I think FirstNet brings the ability to act as a coordinating point and take away some of those commercial barriers, which may somehow exist in those sorts of circumstances. In a long-term sense, the ability to prioritize traffic for our first responders really helps, I think, segregate for carriers our customer base,” he said.