With hours left before the deadline for states to make a decision on whether to opt in or out of the the nationwide broadband network for first responders, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu changed his mind.
The change comes three weeks after Sununu decided to opt out of FirstNet and award a contract to Rivada Networks for the build-out of the network. New Hampshire reversed its position, the governor said, because of the risk associated with being the only state to opt-out of the network.
“New Hampshire was given two options: to ‘opt-in’ and choose the national contractor AT&T’s plan or ‘opt-out’ and go with an alternative plan,” Sununu said in a statement. “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.”
Earlier this month, Sununu announced that the state would indeed opt out of the network and select an alternative network that would plug into the nationwide system powered by AT&T and FirstNet, a federal agency otherwise known as the First Responder Network Authority.
New Hampshire’s alternative vendor, Rivada Networks, was chosen because the arrangement would allow the state to “retain a level of control that it would not have enjoyed in an opt-in scenario,” Sununu said at the time.
The decision to reverse course and opt-in, however, Sununu said, came from his conversations with other state governors.
“Following our decision to opt-out and go with the Rivada plan that provides better coverage, more system control and an opportunity to share in the revenue streams of the business, we proceeded to have extensive discussions with other governors across the country to help them understand the benefits of such a system,” Sununu said. “Many of these states had previously expressed serious interest in pursuing an independent opt-out path.”
In a statement to StateScoop, a spokesperson for Rivada called the parting between the state and the company “a mutual parting of ways,” and said Sununu was “gracious about his decision, which we completely understand under the circumstances.”
“Nobody else had the courage to stand up to AT&T,” the Rivada spokesperson said. “Sununu felt New Hampshire didn’t have the scale to go its own way alone. … In the end, FirstNet’s and AT&T’s intimidation and inducements worked, New Hampshire alone stood up to it.”
The Dec. 28 deadline, Sununu said, was too tight for other states, causing New Hampshire to be the lone state that opted out. As of publication time on Dec. 28, 53 states and territories had opted in to FirstNet, while three territories — Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa — had not made a decision. With no decision, a state or territory automatically opts-in to the network.
“We are pleased that New Hampshire will join FirstNet,” FirstNet CEO Mike Poth said in a statement. “Our goal has and will always be to bring each state and territory the best and most sustainable network — a solution designed for public safety, by public safety, delivered by a proven partner.”
The opt-out decision, and the process leading up to it, allowed the state to maintain leverage to “ensure that the AT&T proposal was one of the best in the country,” Sununu said.
Under the opt-in agreement, AT&T has committed to building 48 new cell tower sites across the state, Sununu said, which will “lead to a top quality public safety network for our first responders and enhanced coverage for all of our citizens.”
John Stevens, the state’s interoperability coordinator and single point of contact for FirstNet, said he was “disappointed” that the hurdles to an opt-out were too high, but was “proud” of the efforts of the state through the process.
“Together, we conducted the nation’s most thorough state level review of available FirstNet options, negotiated hard on behalf of the state and its first responders, and ultimately obtained one of the best opt-in plan proposals of any state in the country,” Stevens said in a statement. “We are pleased that the state’s vigorous pursuit of the opt-out path left us in a stronger position than any other state in the country.”
Editor’s Note: This story was updated Tuesday, January 2, with a comment from Rivada Networks.