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Handful of holdout states remain undecided on US public safety network

Time is running out for state governors to decide whether to opt in or out of a new nationwide public safety broadband network.

While most governors announced their decisions weeks or even months ago, a handful of states remained undecided as late as the afternoon of Dec. 27, roughly 24 hours ahead of the Dec. 28 deadline.

The First Responder Network Authority, or FirstNet, is working with AT&T Inc. to build an interoperable next-generation broadband network hardened to withstand natural disasters and terrorist attacks. Though the network will be nationwide, each state can choose whether to opt in or pursue an alternate solution. If states take no action to opt-out by the Dec. 28 deadline, per statute, they effectively opt in to the nationwide network.

As of 4 p.m. ET on Dec. 27, FirstNet said 48 states and territories had officially opted into the network, comprised of 45 states, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Washington, D.C. "Each state decision brings us one step closer to realizing a truly nationwide public safety network. And that's exciting," said First Responder Network Authority CEO Mike Poth in an emailed statement.

The five states yet to officially file a decision as of Dec. 27 were California, Mississippi, Florida, New York and New Hampshire. Three Pacific U.S. territories — Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands — had also not yet made an official election, though they are the only three territories that have an extended deadline of March 12, 2018, to do so.

So far, New Hampshire is the only state to have publicly announced the intent to opt-out of the nationwide network. New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu said Dec. 7 the state will move forward on an alternative plan with Rivada Networks LLC. Before FirstNet selected AT&T to be its partner in building the nationwide network, Rivada competed with AT&T for the national contract. The smaller company ultimately lost that bid but has been talking to individual states about alternatives.

"Rivada has proposed a plan that has the potential to provide immense value to our state, including unparalleled public safety infrastructure investments that will lead to unmatched and near universal coverage for the new public safety network," Sununu said earlier this month, adding that the alternative plan, if successfully executed, will enable the state to retain "a level of control that it would not have enjoyed in an opt-in scenario."

A FirstNet representative noted in an interview that as of Dec. 27, FirstNet has not received official notice from Sununu's office of the opt-out election. Rivada Senior Vice President Brian Carney said in an interview New Hampshire is only holding off on filing its election with FirstNet to make the most of the time available to the state. According to the Federal Communications Commission, an opt-out state has 180 days after it provides its opt-out notice to complete its requests for proposals for the construction, maintenance and operation of its own public safety network. The state then has an additional 60 days beyond that point to submit its alternative plan to the FCC for review and approval.

Carney said Rivada is continuing its conversations with "multiple states" as of Dec. 27, adding, "We certainly don't expect New Hampshire to be alone [in opting out] by the end of tomorrow."