New Hampshire becomes first state to opt out of FirstNet

New Hampshire has officially opted out of FirstNet, becoming the first state to choose not to use the nationwide network for first responders being built by AT&T.

Gov. Chris Sununu announced the decision this morning at a New Hampshire police barracks, according to the Associated Press, saying the state will instead tap Rivada Networks to provide wireless service for emergency workers. The move will enable the state to retain more control over the communications initiative, Sununu said.

“Rivada is honored to have the opportunity to build a world-class public-safety RAN for the Granite State,” Rivada CEO Declan Ganley said in a press release touting the win. “New Hampshire ran the longest and most thorough opt-out review process in the country. Now the real work of transforming New Hampshire’s public-safety communications can begin.”

Governors in 35 states and two territories have announced decisions to opt in to use FirstNet, and commissions in Georgia and Florida recently recommended opting in to the governors in those states. Rivada announced last week that it was working with Macquarie Capital to pursue opt-out contracts for states considering alternatives to the FirstNet offering.

Verizon is among a small handful of other players looking to provide wireless services to emergency workers. States have until Dec. 28 to announce their final decisions whether to use FirstNet; those that don’t officially decide will automatically be opted in to the system.

“To date, all other states and territories that have made a decision have chosen to opt in to FirstNet—reflecting a belief across the nation that it is the best option for the public safety community and the residents they serve,” said Chris Sambar, senior vice president of AT&T FirstNet, in a statement emailed to FierceWireless. “Today, Gov. Sununu has expressed his decision to go down a path not chosen by any of the 35 states and territories before him. We remain hopeful New Hampshire will continue to assess the substantial risks associated with an opt-out proposal of an unproven vendor.”

Several other states appear to be on the fence regarding FirstNet’s offering as the deadline looms. Colorado last week said it had selected Rivada and Macquarie to build and maintain a first-responder network should Gov. John Hickenlooper opt out of FirstNet, and California recently issued a request for proposals (RFP) seeking bids from FirstNet competitors.

Securing the FirstNet contract was viewed as a major win for AT&T, which will get access to 20 MHz of 700 MHz low-band spectrum and $6.5 billion for designing and operating the nationwide network for federal, state and local authorities, with the right to sell excess capacity on the system. AT&T will spend roughly $40 billion over the life of the 25-year contract to deploy and maintain the network, the Department of Commerce said, integrating its network assets with FirstNet.

But some states have begun to balk at FirstNet’s terms of service in recent weeks. Among other things, states are questioning spectrum manager lease agreements—SMLAs—that include hefty payments for opting out or terminating its agreement if they aren’t able to meet FirstNet’s technical requirements. Pennsylvania, for instance, would reportedly pay nearly $1 billion over 25 years to lease spectrum from FirstNet if it opted out, according to a recent report from Urgent Communications, and billions more if it didn’t meet technical and operational obligations. Similarly, California officials said opting out would require “an unrealistic number of subscriptions/connections” as well as nearly $3 billion in spectrum lease payments and more than $15 billion in penalties.

Cities and towns in states that opt in won’t automatically be required to fall in line; they can instead choose to go with another service. So the fight to meet the needs of those users is expected to continue long past the Dec. 28 deadline.