FirstNet and AT&T have begun the buildout of the network in all 50 states and territories as all states chose to opt-in to the federal plan. Each state is required to have the public safety network. However, the enabling legislation gave states the option of either accepting the federal FirstNet plan (opt-in) or building the network itself (opt-out). The opt-in option puts the burden of building, operating and maintaining the network on the shoulders of the federal FirstNet authority. As per the enabling legislation, FirstNet sought a private partner to assist in the building and operation of the network. AT&T was selected as FirstNet’s commercial partner, following a 15-month national RFP process. Verizon chose not to compete for the contract.
On November 29, 2017, Governor Phil Scott announced his decision to accept the FirstNet and AT&T plan to deliver a wireless broadband network to the state’s public safety community. This decision followed a recommendation made earlier in November by the PSBC that Vermont allow FirstNet/AT&T to build the network, rather than the State working to build its own. The Governor’s decision is supported by several independent opt-in recommendations:
- Televate, a technical consultant hired by the PSBC to evaluate the federal plan
- Coeur Business Group, hired by the Agency of Digital Services to evaluate opt-in/opt-out proposals
- State Treasurer’s Office, issuing a financial risks opinion on the State of Vermont opting-in or opting-out
Commission Review Process
The PSBC worked throughout 2017 to evaluate options for the State of Vermont regarding the buildout of the NPSBN. In preparing to make a recommendation to the Governor, the PSBC:
- Critically reviewed the draft and final proposals submitted by FirstNet/AT&T to the State of Vermont for a statewide Radio Access Network (RAN);
- Worked with FirstNet/AT&T to improve the solution recommended for Vermont by FirstNet/AT&T – specifically improvements in coverage and deployable technology;
- Secured the services of an independent consultant (Televate) to conduct a technical review of the FirstNet/AT&T RAN offer and reviewed their findings;
- Conducted outreach with Vermont’s practitioner community to share information and request feedback on the commission’s activities;
- Issued an RFP for optional RAN proposals and evaluated the responses for suitability;
- Worked with the State Treasurer’s Office to obtain an opinion on financial risks to Vermont on the various approaches; and
- Considered the findings of the Independent Review (IR) conducted by Couer Business Group on behalf of the Agency of Digital Services.
If a state had decided to opt-out of the FirstNet/AT&T proposed plan, that state was required to demonstrate that it could build and maintain a system comparable to that offered by FirstNet. Since the intent of the federal program is to create a reliable nationwide interoperable network, an opt-out state had to meet stringent requirements in order to receive approval from the Federal Communications Commission, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and FirstNet. The NTIA would administer the opt-out progression by facilitating states to enter into a spectrum capacity lease agreement with FirstNet and access grant funds that would have covered some of the costs for the construction of a Radio Access Network (RAN) in a given state. Alternative plans had to address eight measurements.
The deadline for governors to communicate an opt-in/opt-out decision to FirstNet was December 28, 2017.