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Sununu decision on emergency responder network due today

By DAVE SOLOMON
State House Bureau

December 06. 2017 11:00PM




CONCORD — A decision from Gov. Chris Sununu on New Hampshire’s participation in a nationwide communications network for first responders is expected today.

The Granite State could become the first to opt out of a federally sanctioned program with AT&T to launch what is known as FirstNet; or Sununu could decide to go against the recommendation of a study group and sign up with AT&T.

A commission that has been studying the issue for the past two years recommended that New Hampshire forego the AT&T contract for FirstNet service, now adopted by 35 other states, and go its own way with an upstart communications company called Rivada.

But the governor is under pressure from first responders, business interests and some Executive Councilors to join the other states and sign up with AT&T.

The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) is an agency of the Department of Commerce created by Congress in 2012.

It has a mandate to create a nationwide emergency communication system using a chunk of high-value broadcast spectrum the FCC reserved for FirstNet after acquiring it from broadcasters in a series of high-stakes auctions.

Sununu issued an executive order in October creating a high-level, five-member committee to review the regulatory and financial risks associated with an opt-out plan.

That decision came a little more than a week after the Statewide Interoperability Committee, a 30-member panel studying the project since 2015, recommended opting out after seeing the costs associated with a New Hampshire hook-up to the national system and considering the Rivada alternative.

States that opt out have to come up with an option of their own that will still integrate with the AT&T system adopted by the majority of states.

In New Hampshire’s case, that would mean creating a New Hampshire network with Rivada, one of the unsuccessful bidders that pursued the FirstNet contract to build the network, which went to AT&T. The state already has a tentative contract with Rivada, depending on Sununu’s final decision, which is his alone to make.

The federal deadline for states to decide is Dec. 28, but Sununu plans to announce his decision today in Twin Mountain, near Bethlehem, where he will be joined by first responders, lawmakers and government officials at the Troop F State Police barracks.

The Professional Firefighters Association has come out in support of the AT&T option, as has the statewide Business and Industry Association.

In a letter hand-delivered to the governor on Tuesday, the BIA called the plan to go with Rivada “unnecessarily risky.”

“It could backfire, leaving New Hampshire taxpayers on the hook for potentially hundreds of millions of dollars,” wrote BIA President Jim Roche. “We do not believe there is a justifiable reason for taking on such risk with an unproven company when the other choice is available.”

Sununu offered no hints on which way he is leaning on Wednesday, saying he still wants to review the cost-benefit analysis presented to him by the FirstNet Opt-Out Review Committee on Monday.

“We know we have to make a decision in very short order,” said Sununu. “Other states have opted in without even looking into opt-out. We have the option in this state. We are in a favorable position to make the best decision for New Hampshire.”

dsolomon@unionleader.com


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