- New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu made an eleventh hour decision to opt in to FirstNet, the federal nationwide communications network for public safety workers and first responders. This is a reversal from Sununu's announcement earlier this month that the state would opt out.
- Dec. 28 was the deadline for states to decide if they would go with the federal service, operated by AT&T, or choose their own provider.
- With New Hampshire's change of course, all 50 states, plus Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Washington, D.C., have opted in to the network.
New Hampshire is the only state to have changed course after making an official announcement about FirstNet participation. Sununu's move is a surprise on a number of levels, not the least of which is the timing. The reversal comes just three weeks after he made the announcement about opting out, becoming the first — and ultimately, only — state or territory to do so. The reversal is also surprising considering how much time and effort had been put into examining other options and securing Rivada Networks as the state's alternative contractor.
Sununu waited until well into deadline day to see if any other states would also opt out, but when none did — especially key holdouts like New York and Florida — he went public with the change. In a statement, he said, "While Rivada's plan remains the better option for New Hampshire, I have determined that the additional risk associated with being the only state to opt-out creates too high a barrier for New Hampshire to continue down the opt-out path alone."
New Hampshire officials originally had several concerns about FirstNet, and two proved to be major sticking points: states' lack of operational control over the network and spotty coverage in rural areas. Colorado had also been vocal about its concerns and its exploration of other options — to the point of securing a conditional contract with Rivada Network — though the state opted in last week after AT&T promised 35 additional cellular sites than what was initially planned. The same commitment to additional towers led Washington and Oregon to announce opt-in decisions on Tuesday.
States had 90 days to decide if they would opt in or out to FirstNet, and those that didn't publicly announce a choice automatically would be rolled into the network. Some opted in because it was the best option, and others for the ease of not having to find an alternative provider. Many said they liked the fact that FirstNet's infrastructure build-out is of no cost to states. However, a number expressed concerns and put out requests for proposals for alternative providers. In the end, Sununu said other states didn't have enough time to confidently opt out due to the looming deadline. Faced with uncertainty, opting in does appear to be a better option because of the potential reconstruction and restoration costs imposed on states that opt out and fail to build their own network, then join FirstNet at a later time.
California was one of the states to have released an RFP for alternative network contractors. As the hours ticked on and Governor Jerry Brown did not make an announcement, many speculated that the state would be the only one to stay silent which would mean an opt-in by default. But California opted in late yesterday, becoming the final state to do so. Brown did express concerns about the plan not meeting all of the state's needs, but he hopes that FirstNet will address the gaps which include interoperability, security and site hardening.
FirstNet anticipates that AT&T will have the core network built by March 2018, and the complete infrastructure should be in place in 2020.