Thursday, December 10, 2015

FirstNet to issue RFP and will ask for a commercial carrier to take on all the risk.

So FirstNet is coming out of the closet with an RFP. What a great achievement? The government has been putting out RFPs for many years, so why is this any different? I mean we’re only 14 years since 9-11 and the concept of dedicating a communications platform just for Public Safety is just getting started? Am I missing something here? But, look at the bright side at least we’ll have another 500-page document to go through. It could be thousands of pages of a law being implemented – in triplicate – and that nobody will read. ;)

Has anyone seen a business plan yet? Don’t we need a business plan before we try and respond to a proposal? What’s the return look like? What’s the revenue forecast, service capabilities, and customer forecast? What are the terms and conditions? Am I the only one here that thinks this may run into some trouble? Are you coming out with an RFP asking me to be the entrepreneur and create a business plan that will model the D-Block spectrum for services? Why do I need you to do that? Didn’t I already try to pay you $10 Billion a few years ago for the same spectrum, only now you want to give it to me for free? What’s the catch? Am I missing something here?

The RFP hasn’t even come out yet and I already know where this is going. We have a federal government entity trying to do something the federal government has never done before; with an organization that doesn’t operate by your typical federal mindset; in an industry they typically never play in; deploying one of the largest and most advanced broadband solutions ever conceived on the planet; and trying to bring in partners they’ve never worked with before; all while protecting our most vital national asset of public safety? And, we don’t have a business plan? This is going to be long and painful…like a colonoscopy done with an 8-foot 4-inch PVC pipe. We haven’t even moved past the Obamacare websites and already we’re trying something much bigger? Are there still people out there that don’t see where Donald Trump is coming from? Hellooo…..anyone in there? McFlyyyyy!

My prediction is that this RFP will “specify” the needs that only a commercial carrier can provide, a solution to build, operate and maintain a broadband wireless network covering a “national footprint”. There won’t be much building because it cost too much money, unless the partner wants to pay for it. The solution will ask for a “national footprint”, but in reality will stipulate “if doable” and limit the real terms to only cover the major metropolitan areas – an area we already have coverage in.

This awardee will have to DBOM the entire solution and provide wireless services at a cost equal too, or less than, what public safety already gets. In return the carriers will be allowed to utilize the underutilized bandwidth (spectrum) for themselves, but they will have to build out the rural areas when it becomes necessary (which they will never do). If I were a carrier I would be asking myself what am I getting myself into? What will be in the bag I'm left holding at the end? I already provide those services today to public safety, on the same footprint, and your asking me to inject your bureaucracy into a process I already have well established just so I can access some spectrum that I may not need? What happens if I, a carrier, decide to go all content and just provide an “App” interface to make money? Will I be forced to maintain infrastructure that doesn’t belong to me? What if I don’t want to build out a hardened infrastructure to a rural county that only has 5 farmers in it? Will this be the "Internet of Things" by us providing services to cow collar tracking devices?

I’m afraid that this RFP will do one of two things: it will engage a process of procurement that will never be achievable; or worse yet hand over the keys to the commercial carriers. Why do I know this, because FirstNet will be tied up in all the legalities of the federal government and the political quagmire of operating outside of their expertise? It’s evident that FirstNet, the organization, has not addressed the concerns of the political landscape in developing such a solution within the States. We can’t just have “State Consultations” and think that we have settled all the concerns of fully addressing a framework that the federal government can interact with the State on a local level for public safety controls -- let alone rendering complex service offerings of broadband with potential customers.

The fact is this ship was doomed the day it left the harbor. My interactions with FirstNet lately has been nothing short of a solid wall of “we don’t want to hear it anymore, we just want to build something, or at least start to build something before we (I) leave and pass the buck to someone else.” (FirstNet Leadership) I’m afraid this kind of lackadaisical behavior is only proof that this ride has been long, bumpy, and way more complex than they intended.  This could have all been avoided had they just acted like an entrepreneur from the start and came up with a business plan -- one that realistically accounted for how these networks are built and how they are paid for…. from the bottom-up.

They also failed to understand that if you go to the “commercial carriers” for insight on how to build a national network, on the spectrum the “commercial carriers” wanted from the start, is not the best avenue of protecting your assets; especially when what your asking for is in direct competition with what the carriers already provide. A carrier will do what a carrier does, sell broadband services to the masses using whatever means they have to appease their shareholders -- public safety is not the masses and is definitely not large enough to appease the shareholders. Like I’ve said in the past, we can’t build this network from the top-down, we have to build it from the bottom-up – the State bottom-up. And here we thought the deployment of LMR was a problem…relax this is going to be a long ride to nowhere. LMR was a small piece of cake compared to what this will be.

In the end, FirstNet will proceed anyway only to encourage the blasphemy of heretics like myself to say “I told you so” while we all watch a long drawn out, slow motion, train wreck. Wait to we see how many States “Opt Out” and totally put a final nail of the coffin of sustainability for FirstNet.

But who am I other than…

Just some guy and a blog….

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