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The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) is looking for qualified contractors interested in competing to provide wireless telecommunications services during national emergencies, according to a Jan. 19 request for information.
CISA, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, plans to issue a follow-on contract supporting its National Security and Emergency Preparedness (NS/EP) Priority Telecommunications Services (PTS) program. The program ensures government agencies and local first responders have access to secure, resilient networks during natural disasters and national security emergencies. Having a contingency plan in place is essential “when network congestion or damage renders conventional communications ineffective,” according to the RFI.
DHS currently maintains NS/EP PTS contracts with three providers: AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications Inc., and Sprint Federal Operations LLC, now a subsidiary of T-Mobile US Inc. The three contracts have generated a combined $364 million of a total combined $500 million since they were awarded in 2014. DHS could extend all three contracts until March 31, 2024 if officials exercise all three remaining one-year option periods.
CISA is requesting updated information on “available and evolving communication service capabilities that can provide secure priority voice, data, video, and information services” across all network types under all conditions, according to the RFI. The government hopes to pair “enhanced priority service capabilities with best practice cybersecurity and assurance.”
The program will require prospective bidders to meet requirements for coverage, resilience, mobile-friendliness, international connectivity, scalability, and cost. Further, the RFI requests input on how emerging technologies, such as cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and 5G wireless networking, can help meet government needs.
CISA hopes to broaden the pool of contractors and subcontractors, according to the RFI. But the merger of T-Mobile and Sprint means that there are only three national wireless carriers. Further, a critical requirement is that bidders must control their own network infrastructure in order to be considered for a prime contract. Services that rely on leasing spare network capacity from other providers, known as mobile virtual network operators, wouldn’t meet that requirement as they could not guarantee priority access during emergencies.
CISA will rely on contracting support from the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) to evaluate bids and ensure system compatibility with Pentagon-led emergency communication networks. DISA will serve as contracting authority, while CISA will supply funding.
Potential bidders must respond to the RFI no later than Feb. 25.
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