Colorado takes a step away from federal, AT&T FirstNet first responder system | SummitDaily.com

Colorado takes a step away from federal, AT&T FirstNet first responder system

Randy Wyrick / Vail Daily

Colorado took a step back from a federal first responder comunications system, FirstNet. The system will be built by AT&T, but Colorado's FirstNet committee wants to know what two other companies can come up with.

DENVER — With possibly millions of dollars and the future of first responder communications at stake, a statewide governing body voted Thursday, Nov. 16, to study an alternative to a federal first responder network being built in partnership with AT&T.

The FirstNet Colorado Governing Body accepted a combined bid from Rivada Networks and Macquarie Infrastructure Systems as part of its look at an alternative.

The committee’s vote makes Colorado the second state to announce that it will study alternatives to the AT&T system. New Hampshire’s committee became the nation’s first to study opting out, with a unanimous vote last month.

Eagle County Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry is part of the FirstNet Colorado Governing Body. Colorado’s issue is rural coverage, she said, and Eagle County is considered rural, defined as having a population of fewer than five people per square mile.

The White River National Forest is home to 11 ski areas, 10 peaks taller than 14,000 feet, 2,500 miles of trails and holes in AT&T coverage.

Brian Shepherd, Colorado’s FirstNet contact person, said the White River National Forest is targeted by AT&T to close coverage holes in the next five years.

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NOT FREE EITHER WAY

It won’t be free to join, but so far AT&T says states have to opt in if they want to know how much agencies will pay.

Shepherd said AT&T has established a general pricing structure that contains a ceiling price. Shepherd did not say what that ceiling price would be, but said AT&T leaves open the ability for individual agencies to negotiate.

It’s not free to opt out, either.

Opting out could cost Vermont up to $173 million, reports the Vermont online newspaper VT Digger.

California’s opt-out penalties could top $15 billion, California Rep. Anna Eshoo said during a hearing on Capital Hill.

Colorado will arrive at an opt-out cost based on the final network design, working with Rivada and Macquarie, Shepherd said.

“We are excited to have a potential partner identified for the opt-out scenario so we can identify the best possible solution for Colorado’s portion of the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network,” Shepherd said. “The award is contingent first on a recommendation from the (FirstNet Colorado Governing Body) to opt out of the proposed state plan.”

New Hampshire Gov. Sununu has been vocal in his state’s resistance. He sent a letter to 49 other governors, calling for states to join together to do “due diligence” to determine whether opting out might be smarter.

In his letter, Sununu called some of FirstNet’s fees and penalties “arbitrary and primarily designed to deter states from opting out of FirstNet plans.”

ABOUT FIRSTNET

The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 created the First Responder Network Authority, or FirstNet, an independent authority within the U.S. Department of Commerce tasked with developing, building and operating a Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network.

After taking five years to plan the network, FirstNet, in partnership with AT&T, delivered its plan to states in mid-September. That gave states only 90 days before the Thursday, Dec. 28, deadline to decide whether they want to opt in to FirstNet or develop its own segment of the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network. In Colorado, that decision rests with Gov. John Hickenlooper.

AT&T will be able to use the network for commercial purposes, but when first responders need it, other users will be bumped down to a lower bandwidth. The federal government is spending $6.5 billion on the project.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.