Rivada fails in last-minute bid against AT&T for FirstNet opt-out contracts

02 January 2018 | Alan Burkitt-Gray


AT&T has won its competition with Irish-owned rival Rivada Networks for the right to build emergency services networks in 53 states and territories of the US.

The US Department of Commerce (DOC) awarded the contract for the FirstNet project to AT&T in March 2017, but allowed each state or other territory to opt out if it wished to build its own network.

But now all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands have accepted FirstNet and AT&T’s proposals. The other three US territories, Guam, American Samoa and the Mariana Islands, have until March 2018 to decide – but no one is expecting them to choose differently.

Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said: “With all 50 states and several territories participating in FirstNet, we have a clear path to delivering a truly nationwide broadband network for first responders.”

The need for a unified network – bringing together police, fire services and other emergency services – was first identified in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington. “We are now one step closer to delivering on a key recommendation of the 9/11 Commission,” said Ross.

Rivada made a last-minute attempt to forestall the process, complaining just before the Christmas holiday that the FirstNet organisation had changed the rules just a few days before states had to make their decisions.

Rivada, led by Irish businessman Declan Ganley, said that FirstNet had previously made “a ‘draconian’ and ‘unrealistic’ threat of huge termination penalties for opt-out states”. It complained that “nine days before the opt-in/opt-out deadline, and with no public notice so far, FirstNet is changing the rules again and withdrawing the termination-fee threat”.

Rivada grumbled: “FirstNet quietly, and under cover of an asserted right to secrecy, radically changed the terms of ‘opt out’ through a revision to its draft spectrum lease agreement.”

It admitted that “this dramatic change makes opting out much less risky and more attractive to states, and that is to be applauded”, but it warned: “The manner in which it was done and the timing of the change leaves states with no opportunity to fully weigh its ramifications.”

AT&T said the decision to go for its option “was unanimous with all 50 states, two territories and the District of Columbia opting in to the FirstNet spectrum build-out (at no cost to them)”.

Rivada attracted only one state, New Hampshire, but it switched to the FirstNet/AT&T option.

Chris Sambar, senior vice president for AT&T – FirstNet, said: “Securing 53 opt-ins is significant for the public safety personnel that this network will serve. And we’re honoured to give first responders across the country quick access to this life-saving solution.”

Mike Poth, CEO of the First Responder Network Authority, said: “With every state saying ‘yes’ to the FirstNet plan, America’s first responders now have a nationwide interoperable network they can rely on 24/7/365.”

AT&T has a 25-year contract worth $46.5 billion to build the nationwide 4G network.