So did you catch the publication of the FCCs findings on the Opt-Out process for the States? You can review the document on the Federal Register under the title “FirstNet Opt-out Procedures Report and Order - PS Docket No. 16-269.” The document outlines the comments that were filed on October 21, 2016, and reply to those comments were filed on November 21, 2016. Eighteen parties filed comments and five parties filed reply comments.[i]
There are a few key points in the findings and resolutions.
The statute is unclear as to how far states must have progressed in the RFP process to meet the 180-day “develop and complete” requirement. Timing of submission of state alternative plans, we conclude that states should have some additional time beyond the 180-day RFP completion period to assess RFP bids and finalize their alternative plans for Commission consideration. Just as FirstNet did not deliver the state plans immediately upon completion of the RFP process—we believe it reasonable to afford states that have developed and completed RFPs an additional 60-day period to submit alternative state plans to the Commission. We will provide states an additional 60 days for submission of alternative plans, and thereby a total of 240 days from their opt-out notification date.
That was pretty much the most important piece of the findings. Other areas of refining interoperability oversight within the FCC; negating a “shot clock”; and insuring the Opt-Out States abide by the interoperability standards of the Technical Advisory Committee. Essentially, what we have is a statement the FCC will abide by the law as written and the States will be given a fair shake at producing their own solutions.
One thing to note about the timelines though, the FCC needs to understand that the timeline for when individual States decide to Opt-Out will have a huge impact on the simplistic timeline the law lays out. What happens if the FCC gets 20 States all deciding to Opt-Out at the same time? How will the FCC account for such a timeline and its impact on approvals? What happens if all the States Opt-Out? Just a thought.
So, now the State has 240 days to gets its RFP together for an Opt-Out! What does that buy you? Constructing a simple RFP, and advertising it to the open equity market for potential partners in a statewide Public Private Partnership to build its own network, is actually a very simply process. A State should be able to advertise its RFP within 30 days asking for proposals to be submitted 60 days later, thus 90 days. As was the case for Alabama, New Hampshire, Colorado and others, whom all received multiple proposals, met the guidelines addressed in the FCC findings – that is to construct, maintain, operate, and improve on the state RAN, while at the same time meeting the technical interoperable standards laid out by the Technical Advisory Committee in Colorado. Putting the RFP together and getting a plan will not be that complex and will result in some very creative and much aligned solutions that will better the State and meet its requirements.
What does it all mean though for the Opt-Out State? What good will be done? Who will benefit? What will be the best for the State and its Public Safety users?
We hear a lot of the PR engine flaunting about “how bad” it will be for a State to Opt-Out. Or, how a State’s desire to Opt-Out is a “false choice”. All of these efforts are themselves a transparent a desperate act of an obvious posture to help support the Opt-In solution as the outcome. Who actually wins with the Opt-Out and who really gains from the Opt-In? Now that would be a great comment period for the FCC to conduct. The reality of the solution is based on the nature of physically building an entrepreneurial public-private-partnership (P3) that can exude the benefits of the law to the taxpayer and the State – not one commercial carrier. All we have been hearing about is a well-funded PR campaign so that AT&T can obtain the rights to the 20Mhz of spectrum, while at the same time netting billions in federal funds to help augment its own desire to upgrade its network into 5G. You can’t blame AT&T. AT&T is in the business of selling its services, not giving it away for free. But, the effort to project an image that AT&T is doing something good for Public Safety, as it downplays its own benefits of the deal, can be construed as an act of treason to some. Or, a transparent look into the true nature of a commercial carrier?
The Opt-Out solution is the best route for all the States, thus Public Safety. As the title of the law reads, how does the FirstNet-AT&T solution meet the requirements of “the Middle Class Tax Relief and Jobs Creation Act”? Where is the tax relief? Where is the jobs creation? Was the real purpose of the Act not about what its title conveys? The only tax relief in this case goes to AT&T and the only jobs created are on the AT&T payroll. A State that decides to Opt-Out will, in fact, better align with tax relief for the State and will un-equivalently create more local jobs than anything the FirstNet plan admits. Not only that, but a State that decides to Opt-Out will also generate an influx of private capital into its local economy, thus forming a catalyst for even more jobs statewide. A State’s P3 will create a private entity within the State. That private entity will need to create its own physical presence within the State. The P3 will need to rent or buy properties for its operations. The P3 will need to hire its own staff – locally. The P3 will need to physically create and man its operation centers. The P3 will need to build its own datacenters; hire maintenance crews; and most importantly, create long-standing reutilization of employment resources for running the State’s network. But that’s not all…
Outside of the State’s physical need to create its P3, the entire solution will generate an untold amount of prosperity throughout all areas of the State by enabling a new market ecosystem of applications and broadband services that can be supported for all State entities – not just Public Safety. Essentially, the State’s Opt-Out decision will generate much needed jobs, commerce, and revenue throughout a supporting economic firestorm of applications across all tiers of the commercial, State, and Federal bodies of service. The Opt-Out solution is, in fact, installing a mandate to construct a physical infrastructure and framework for a solid, protected, and prioritized wireline and wireless broadband solution that will introduce dynamism to the State’s overall growth.
What is the purpose of the “Broadband for America”? What is the purpose of Title II? What is the purpose of trying to get “real broadband” to all Americans? The State’s Opt-Out decision forms the strategic basis that enables all of these programs and will drive a sufficient framework of revenue to self-sustain itself for the foreseeable future -- while at the same time prioritizing Public Safety over all. The Opt-Out is better for the State; better for Public Safety; better for the taxpayer; better for the unemployed; better for the future. It’s actually even better for AT&T and FirstNet, if they would take the time to really study the Opt-Out solution.
What needs to happen now? The State’s need to start, if they haven’t started already, putting their RFPs together. A good example to use would be the State of Colorado. Colorado has a really good plan that understands the infrastructure it is trying to install. Their plan outlines the need for a partner that understands its investment into the wireline and wireless solutions desired and how the State plans to orchestrate its endeavor. The State of Alabama also has a good plan to use. Both illustrate how a good RFP should be formulated. Just remember, the timeline for advertising such an RFP is not that complex and does not require all the time required, but it does allow for you to make changes if need be.
There are a few points to consider. One is that the telecom market has been decimated over the years, so the context of getting the teams together will take longer than expected by the responding partners. Your primary partners should be a good Private Equity Team, together with a good contractor, a vendor solution (approved of course by the TAC) and a carrier that can help sustain the initial operational rollouts for services. You need a good private equity player that can put those team players together, and the effort can be driven by a good contractor that is partnered with a good Private Equity team, but overall control has to be on the consortium of private equity players – note I said “private equity players”, they usually don’t want to carry the burden of all the risk so they will have partners. All of this takes time. The Private Equity market is just as weary of the telecom space as everyone else. Another aspect to consider, is that due to the market being crushed over the years, flooding the market with highly lucrative P3 solutions will result in a lot of confusion and necessary re-acquaintance requirements for the industry...so have patience....you too FCC.
If you need help, then just hire me. I’m not currently employed and I'm definately open to a new role! I’ve done all this before, and I’ve sat on all sides of the fence on this one, plus I literally wrote the book on it.
Note: Why do I say telecom and not broadband? Because telecom is the overall infrastructure that is going in and covers both wireline and wireless. You can call it whatever you want, but this has been the terminology since the beginning so why change horses. Broadband only relates to the last 20 years where access to the Internet for a given consumer as it went above 10 Megabit connections at the home.
Just some guy and a blog….
[i] List of Commenting Parties to the FCC Report
· Department of Management Services, Division of Telecommunications, The State of Alabama (Alabama)
· The State of Nevada Department of Public Safety, Division of Emergency Management/Homeland Security (Nevada)
· Southern Communications Services, Inc. d/b/a SouthernLinc (SouthernLinc)
· The FirstNet Colorado Governing Body (FNCGB)
· Stephen Whitaker (Whitaker)
· Texas Public Safety Broadband Program (Texas)
· Rivada Networks (Rivada)
· APCO International (APCO)
· Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
· NTIA on behalf of the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet)
· The County of Fairfax, Virginia Department of Information Technology (Fairfax)
· National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO)
· State of Indiana - Integrated Public Safety Commission (Indiana)
· Illinois Public Safety Broadband Network Working Group, Illinois Emergency Management Agency (Illinois)
· Dr. Michael Myers
· DVA Consulting, LLC (DVA)
· Sam Leslie, W4PK
· A T&T
· National Regional Planning Council (NRPC)