States are opting in to FirstNet’s plan for a nationwide public safety communications network with growing regularity as the December 28 decision deadline approaches, but the remaining minority of undecided states still represent approximately 42 percent of the national population.
Ohio became the most recent state to opt into the FirstNet and AT&T plan Thursday, making for a total of 35 states and territories to opt in so far. Meanwhile, governors in the key states of California, New York, Illinois and Florida are among those who have not yet announced a decision. Collectively, undecided states still represent nearly 140 million Americans out of a total national population of 326 million.
AT&T Chief Financial Officer John Stephens speculated this week that many of the remaining undecided governors won’t make a decision at all because they have “more important things to do.” States that do not submit an official decision will be opted into the federal plan by default.
In an email to StateScoop, FirstNet expressed confidence in their solution offered to states by AT&T, especially since eight of the opt-in states explored alternative plans through their official procurement processes and decided to opt in anyway.
“With 35 states and territories already making the decision to opt into the network, it shows they recognize the value and benefits of the FirstNet and AT&T network solution, especially the immediate benefits of giving first responders and public safety personnel priority access on the AT&T broadband network once you opt in,” a FirstNet spokesperson said.
Some large states, like Texas and Ohio, have opted in, and while FirstNet single points of contact in undecided states have been careful not to indicate a preference one way or another, most of the remaining undecided states appear to be still looking at all options.
California — the most populous state in the nation — released a request for proposals in November seeking alternative plans from vendors after officials noted concern with AT&T lack of coverage in some of the state’s rural areas.
Colorado and New Hampshire have each awarded conditional opt-out contracts to Rivada Networks, AT&T’s sole competitor in the initial contact bid. Neither state has officially opted out of the federal plan, but have agreements in place if their governors decide to go that route.
New York has been quiet about it’s evaluation process — making no public announcements either way, while Florida’s FirstNet Executive Committee recommended the state opt in.
Ron Kumetz of the Vermont State Firefighters’ Association told StateScoop that opting in was a controversial decision in his state. The decision to opt out was never presented as an equal option, Kumetz said, because states take on all the risk if their opt-out project fails.
Opting in is a safer decision, even if it’s not the better one, Kumetz said.
“Most governors are looking at this and thinking, ‘How much effort am I going to apply to this?’ Opting in is the politically safe move,” Kumetz said.
Ken Rehbehn, an analyst with Critical Communications Insights, told StateScoop that because the decision to opt in or out of FirstNet has been left with governors, the process has been highly politicized, and opting in has been presented as the “painless” decision.