FirstNet Board Votes to Progress with Contract Award, Decision Expected Within the Next Week

After now-resolved litigation stalled the award of the multi-billion-dollar national public safety broadband network, the FirstNet board voted unanimously to approve the award March 28.

by / March 28, 2017

With legal impediments out of the way, the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) board voted during a special meeting on March 28 to grant the CEO the ability to award the $6.5 billion nationwide public safety broadband network contract. 

The vote comes on the heels of a lengthy litigation process in which Rivada Mercury, a partnership of several companies created specifically for the FirstNet project, filed a lawsuit alleging it had been unfairly dismissed from the procurement process.

March 17, Federal Judge Elaine Kaplan, ruled in favor of the government, allowing the board to vote on the approval of the contract award. The end of the lawsuit and the board's unanimous decision on Resolution 84 (which allows for approval to complete acquisition of the nationwide public-safety broadband network [NPSBN]) officially opens the door for FirstNet CEO Mike Poth to finalize the award of the five-year, multi-billion-dollar contract to the yet-to-be-identified bidder. 

Given that AT&T was the only team that reached the “competitive range,” it is expected to sign a 25-year contract to build and maintain the NPSBN for $6.5 billion and access to 20 MHz of 700 MHz spectrum.

Though no official announcement has been made as of yet, Poth said at the meeting that he expects the award process to move quickly, possibly concluding within the next week. He jokingly called the action the “final step to the first rung in the ladder.”

FirstNet Board Chairwoman Susan Swenson called the action an “almost surreal,” “milestone moment” for the project that has been in the planning and development stages since receiving the legal backing from U.S. Congress in 2012.

“Going back to when the project first started, everybody told me that we would never reach this day. They said, ‘We have no idea how you’re going to get from Point A to this particular point,'" she said. "We still obviously have quite a bit of work to do, but this is a significant day in terms of moving us toward that.”

In spite of the generally celebratory mood surrounding the resolution’s approval, board members and attending stakeholders were quick to acknowledge the challenges on the path ahead. Among some of the topics broached during the hour-long meeting, members and attendees noted the need for comprehensive cybersecurity within the network, continued federal and state alignment, and the impending buildout in rural area over the coming years.

During the public safety remarks period of the special meeting, officials from law enforcement and emergency response voiced their support for the nationwide broadband network and the benefits they believe it will bring to the public safety community.

At one point, board member Jeffrey Johnson said the network would bring the public safety community in line with modern capabilities, like text, photo and video. “Somewhere along the path, 14-year-old kids beat us,” he said of the technology currently in use by public safety personnel. “FirstNet will reset that standard and bring to public safety a world-class network — of public safety, by public safety, for public safety — and bring us applications, technology and performance, the likes of which public safety has never seen."

Despite the legal impediment that stalled the contracting aspects of the initiative, the board had taken other action to move the FirstNet project forward in recent months. In June 2016, the chief customer officer role was established, the fiscal 2017 budget was approved, as was a 100-day action plan. Swenson said the actions signal that the larger organization is ready for execution of the project.

In his comments on the recently resolved litigation, Chief Counsel Jason Karp called the court determination in the Rivada Mercury lawsuit a “momentous event” that cleared the last hurdle standing between the FirstNet team and the contract award. Karp went on to call the court decision a “win for public safety.”

Eyragon Eidam Web Editor

Eyragon Eidam is the Web editor for Government Technology magazine, after previously serving as  assistant news editor and covering such topics as legislation, social media and public safety. He can be reached at eeidam@erepublic.com.