FirstNet ruling sets up future battles

Shutterstock image (by kstudija): telecommunications radio tower. 

The federal court ruling that leaves AT&T as the only bidder for the multi-billion-dollar contract for a nationwide public safety broadband network may have also have stiffened competition at the state level for network capability.

U.S. Court of Federal Claims Judge Elaine Kaplan, on March 17, denied Rivada Network's protest motion to compete with AT&T for the 25-year, $6.5 billion contract. The Rivada consortium's protest filing last November forced FirstNet to miss its anticipated contract award date that month.

Judge Kaplan had been considering the protest's fate since final oral arguments concluded in the case in early March. The March 17 decision was sealed by the court for competitive reasons.

FirstNet had been anticipating a ruling last week, with officials saying they were prepared to move ahead on the award quickly after the court's decision.

"We are pleased with the Court's decision. This is a positive development for FirstNet and the public safety community," said FirstNet CEO Mike Poth in a statement on the decision late on March 17. "FirstNet intends to move expeditiously to finalize the contract for the nationwide public safety broadband network."

That contract will most likely go to AT&T, since communications industry insiders and AT&T's own Securities and Exchange Commission filings have said the company is the sole bidder left standing in line for the nationwide contract. Barring any action by the Trump administration, industry insiders said the contract most likely now will go to AT&T.

"We are pleased by the court's ruling as it allows FirstNet to select its partner and jump-start the process of delivering America's first nationwide broadband network dedicated to public safety," said AT&T in a statement after the ruling. "We would be honored to be selected and help fulfill FirstNet's important public safety mission."

In the face of the ruling, however, Rivada Networks vowed something of a house-to-house competitive battle in the states for networking contracts. In the hours after the decision, the consortium -- which includes Harris Corp, Intel, Fujitsu, Ericsson and Nokia -- said it would work directly with states and territories developing their own interoperable Radio Access Network solution. Under FirstNet's rules, states can opt-out and use RANs if they get federal approval for their plans.

Rivada Networks is still considering its legal options following the federal court ruling, company spokesman Brian Carney told FCW in an email on March 20.

The company said it is currently working with the state of New Hampshire on an alternative plan for that state, if it decides to opt out, and working with other states on similar plans.

The company's leadership struck a combative tone in the immediate wake of the ruling.

"FirstNet has made its choice," said Rivada Networks co-CEO Joe Euteneuer in a statement just after the ruling. "Now it is time for states to make theirs. Those that stand by idly will be forced into a federal solution that may or may not suit their needs or budgets. We look forward to working with the states to ensure that they receive a network equal to the promise made to public safety when FirstNet was created."

"Rivada was founded on the conviction that first responders need and deserve access to a world-class, purpose-built high-speed wireless network," said Declan Ganley, co-CEO and executive chairman of Rivada Networks, in the same March 17 statement. "We want America's Governors to know that Rivada's solution remains available to them even if FirstNet ultimately chooses a different approach."

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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