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Sununu defends decision to opt out of public safety system



Associated Press
Wednesday, December 20, 2017

New Hampshire’s governor is standing by his decision to reject a public safety communications system approved by dozens of other states amid concerns about coverage and costs.

The First Responder Network Authority, or FirstNet, was created in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, when some police and fire departments couldn’t communicate with each other over incompatible radio systems.

Each state and U.S. territory must decide by Dec. 28 whether to opt into the broadband network dedicated to public safety being built by AT&T or come up with its own system that would work with FirstNet. Forty states, according to FirstNet’s website, have opted in so far.

New Hampshire is the only state so far to opt out and announce it is using another company, Rivada Networks. Gov. Chris Sununu said Wednesday that there are risks with Rivada’s plan but that it was “far and away the best solution,” noting they are still negotiating the contract.

“We’ve had a lot of outside help with this over a period of years well before I got here, real experts in the field,” he told reporters. “When they come back and say this is a good plan for New Hampshire and you look at the scope and breadth of what Rivada would be able to provide ... I think it’s a real win for New Hampshire.”

States that use AT&T agree to let it build the network within their states at no cost. Those that opt out get federal grants for construction.

A committee that studied the issue for two years in New Hampshire voted unanimously in October to recommend opting out, while a group representing businesses in the state, the Business and Industry Association, urged Sununu to opt in, noting that the state could face hundreds of millions of dollars in penalties if the Rivada system fails.

The business group has since been joined by the Communications Workers of America in opposing the decision. Several members of the Executive Council, which is expected to vote on the Rivada contract in January or February, also say New Hampshire should use FirstNet.

Democratic Councilor Chris Pappas said he wants to ensure Rivada can accomplish what it’s promising.

“New Hampshire needs to dig into this and make sure we make the right decision for our public safety community and for communities across the state,” Pappas said. “There is a concern where you have a start-up organization that doesn’t have the track record that FirstNet would provide for New Hampshire.”

Republican Councilor Joe Kenney, meanwhile, said he was concerned whether Rivada would expand coverage in the North Country and across the state as AT&T had promised to do with FirstNet.

Rivada had sought the federal contract but was eliminated from consideration over concerns that its plan was too risky. A company spokesman said officials ignored the consortium it put together for its bid, and that Rivada’s plan offered better coverage and lower subscription fees for first responders.