Commercial Partner Selection Process Advances for FirstNet

31 May 2016

In January, the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) released their final Request for Proposal (RFP) after a multi-year development process. The importance of this release and its associated award process cannot be understated. From now until May 2017, FirstNet will make significant progress toward building a National Public Safety Broadband Network. Due to this relatively short time frame, the Vermont Public Safety Broadband Commission team has dedicated a newsletter article to explaining the RFP release, the award process, and the scheduled timeline to help you understand what is happening in the upcoming year and why you should care.

A Brief History

Congress passed the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act in 2012, which created FirstNet as an independent authority within the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration and gave it the responsibility to build, operate, and maintain a nationwide wireless broadband network dedicated to first responders. The law also allocated portions of the nationwide 700 Mhz spectrum and $7 billion for construction of the network. FirstNet is tasked with leveraging existing telecommunications infrastructure and assets to contain costs by exploring public/private partnerships. The law mandates FirstNet be self-sufficient and not require any additional government funding.

For the next three years, FirstNet built an organization from the ground up— hiring staff, interpreting their legal status as a quasi-governmental organization, getting input from the public safety community about what they would want from the network (partially by creating a public safety expert-filled Public Safety Advisory Committee), and working on a draft request for proposal to attract a commercial partner. The draft RFP was finally released on April 27, 2015 and contained the proposed design and operation of the National Public Safety Broadband Network. 

Key Highlights of the RFP

After responding to comments on the draft RFP, FirstNet spent the next six months refining the RFP and released the final version on January 13, 2016. The RFP clarified several key aspects of the partnership between FirstNet and a commercial partner.

  • FirstNet’s selected contractor will gain access to 20 MHz of spectrum and receive as much as $6.5 billion to support the build-out and operation of the proposed public-safety broadband network. The contractor must pay FirstNet a minimum of $5.625 billion over the life of the 25-year deal to help fund FirstNet’s continued oversight of the network and operation.
  • The selected contractor is allowed to sell wireless services to traditional consumer customers—on a secondary basis, behind public-safety prioritized traffic—while utilizing FirstNet spectrum.
  • To ensure that the contractor does not use the FirstNet spectrum simply to pursue commercial subscribers the FirstNet contractor could pay more than $100 million in financial penalties and risk losing control of certain business functions if at least 70 percent of the targeted public-safety users do not subscribe to the FirstNet system in a given year upon its operational completion.
  • Public safety users will receive the most favored customer pricing on the network and have a uniform customer experience throughout the FirstNet system.
  • Public safety users are not required to adopt the FirstNet system. The FirstNet offering needs to be attractive enough based on performance and user cost to convince public safety users to subscribe to the network.

The Governor’s Decision

The deadline for commercial partners to respond to the RFP is May 31, 2016. FirstNet will spend the next few months evaluating the proposals before awarding a contract to a commercial partner by November 1, 2016. FirstNet and their commercial partner will then work on State Plans for each state that will outline how the Radio Access Network would be built out in every state and territory in the U.S. The draft state plan will be given to the Vermont Public Safety Broadband Commission to review and give feedback to FirstNet. Vermont’s Governor will then receive the final state plan. He/she will have 90 days to review the state plan and decide whether to opt-in or opt-out of the network. For states that choose to opt-in, FirstNet and its commercial partners will build, market and maintain the network. States that choose to opt-out must take on the responsibility of establishing and maintaining the network themselves. Opt-out states will have 180 days to complete a State RFP and develop an alternative plan. The opt-out plan must comply with Federal Communications Commission and National Environmental Policy Act guidelines.

Contact the Vermont PSBC team if you have any questions.


The FirstNet project is housed within the Radio Technology Services unit of the Department of Public Safety.

Public Safety Broadband Network Commission
Department of Public Safety
45 State Drive Waterbury, VT 05671
(802) 241-5535/ Email the PSBC

Email the PSBC Chair:

Visit the federal government FirstNet Authority web site at:

Visit the commercial AT&T FirstNet subscriber web site at:

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