New Hampshire Trade Group Calls for Reversal of State FirstNet Decision

After Gov. Chris Sununu announced the state would not join the national first responders network, some of the largest employers are urging officials to reconsider.

by Dave Solomon, The New Hampshire Union Leader / December 20, 2017
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(TNS) — The trade organization representing some of New Hampshire’s largest employers is urging the five-member Executive Council to reject Gov. Chris Sununu’s decision regarding the FirstNet telecommunication system for first responders nationwide.

Sununu recently announced New Hampshire would be the only state so far to opt out of the AT&T FirstNet program endorsed by the federal government and create its own statewide network with a relatively new company known as Rivada.

The Business and Industry Association in a hand-delivered letter to the Executive Council on Tuesday asked the council to reject the contract with Rivada to build a statewide public safety communications platform.

The contract does not appear on the agenda for the Dec. 20 Executive Council meeting, but it could be brought forward as a late item.

The BIA says pulling out of the AT&T plan and instead contracting with Ireland-based Rivada “may result in inadequate coverage and leave the state on the hook for potentially millions of dollars.”

“Rivada has never built a wireless or radio access network in the United States,” wrote BIA President Jim Roche. “The company bid on the nationwide contract with FirstNet, but was disqualified from the bidding process for failing to demonstrate its ability to finance, construct or maintain a wireless system, especially one as extensive and important as FirstNet.”

The statewide public safety communications platform will allow New Hampshire first responders from various agencies to communicate with one another during an emergency, and must be integrated with the system adopted by the other states.

Colorado was the only other state to consider opting-out of FirstNet, but yesterday announced it had dropped its provisional contract with Rivada and will join the AT&T program.

Colorado is the 38th state to sign on to AT&T FirstNet. States that make no decision will be automatically enrolled, thus the “opt-out” option which Sununu has exercised.

In making the decision to go with Rivada, Sununu is following the unanimous recommendation of a 30-member panel that has been studying the project since 2015. Supporters of the Rivada contract argue that the state’s financial risk is not as great as has been alleged.

Sununu said Rivada would also offer greater statewide coverage, local control, flexibility and the opportunity for the state to both save and make some money.

North Country Councilor Joe Kenney, R-Union, is adamantly opposed to the Rivada contract, while the other four have expressed strong reservations and a desire to see more information.

“We do not believe there is a justifiable reason for taking on such risk when the other choice, opting into the program, is available,” said BIA President Jim Roche.

“Expanding coverage through FirstNet and AT&T means that mobility and connectivity will no longer be an issue for technology and data intensive businesses,” he said. “Most importantly, public safety and our state’s first responders will have a superior communications system that protects their lives as they protect the lives of the citizens of our state.”

The conservative Josiah Bartlett Center, a free-market think tank from which Sununu has recruited many of his key team members, issued a policy statement on Tuesday concurring with the BIA.

“In theory, opting out of FirstNet would give the state greater control over its first responder radio network, a factor the governor mentioned in his announcement. Unfortunately, because of the way FirstNet is legally structured, opting out creates numerous financial and operational risks for the state,” according to the Bartlett policy brief.

“Given the risks that would be incurred by opting out — and only by opting out — New Hampshire’s best choice is to opt in.”

New Hampshire has until Dec. 28 to change course and opt-in to FirstNet. It could still opt-in at any time thereafter, but might face financial penalties.

©2017 The New Hampshire Union Leader (Manchester, N.H.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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