Feds dump ‘draconian’ FirstNet fines, same day Gov. John Hickenlooper opts in for Colorado | AspenTimes.com

Feds dump ‘draconian’ FirstNet fines, same day Gov. John Hickenlooper opts in for Colorado

Randy Wyrick
Vail Daily

New Hampshire became the first state to reject a federal first responder comunications system, FirstNet, to be built by AT&T. New Hampshire encouraged Colorado and other states to also reject FirstNet, and monetize the broadband spectrum for themselves. Colorado, however, decided to opt into the communications system on Tuesday, one day after the feds dropped penalties that were part of Colorado's opt-in decision.

DENVER — State officials say tens of millions of dollars in threatened federal penalties were part of the governor's decision to join a nationwide first responder data network to be built by AT&T.

However, the feds dropped those penalties Monday the same day Gov. John Hickenlooper announced that Colorado would join the First Responder Network Authority, or FirstNet. The system is supposed to give top priority to first responders during an emergency, as part of a nationwide system operated by AT&T.

First responders will use about 1 percent of that spectrum, according to an analysis by Wells Fargo Senior Analyst Jennifer Fritzsche.

That leaves the bulk of the new 20 mhz spectrum available for AT&T to sell to commercial customers. AT&T's contract runs for 25 years.

Feds don't decide any longer

Hickenlooper announced his decision Monday on a broadcast on his Facebook page and then canceled a Thursday meeting of an advisory committee that was set to recommend whether Colorado should join the nationwide system or build its own, as New Hampshire will do.

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Before the feds changed the rules Monday, 39 states had announced they would join FirstNet. The previous rules asserted that if a state's system failed in some way, it could be on the hook to rebuild the system from the ground up.

Now, if a state goes its own way and its system fails, it will only have to pay the costs to fix it, and that cost will be determined by an independent third party, not the feds or AT&T.

D.C. calls it a 'clarification'

A Washington, D.C.-based FirstNet spokesperson said the rule change "clarified the draft" agreement after "receiving feedback" from the states.

"Given these conversations and the feedback that we have received, we provided all interested states with the updated information regarding what they can expect to see in a future (agreement) with FirstNet," the FirstNet spokesman said in a written statement.

While Colorado officials say the state's possible penalties remain confidential, even though Hickenlooper signed the contract during Monday's Facebook broadcast, California, the biggest remaining prize for AT&T and FirstNet, could have faced a $15 billion penalty under the previous rules. That's now gone.

California's FirstNet contact Patrick Mallon said they are aware that the potential penalties were dumped.

Mallon said he does not know what California Gov. Jerry Brown will do, or if that will influence his decision.

Rivada's still ready

Meanwhile, Rivada Networks said dumping the "draconian" penalties radically change opt-out decisions for states. Rivada has been working with states to create their own networks if they decide not to join the federal system.

"This dramatic change makes opting out much less risky and more attractive to states, and that is to be applauded," Rivada said in a statement.

But the last-minute changes to the federal FirstNet rules leave states with little time to examine their options.

"It also seriously harms states that had earlier expressed an intention to opt in under the threat of 'draconian' penalties for opting out. In some cases, those states canceled legally required RFPs or ended them without award, based on threats that FirstNet now seeks quietly to disown," Rivada said.

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