CCA urges FirstNet to take 'granular' approach to broadband network

The Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) is urging the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) to leverage existing facilities of multiple carriers to speed deployment of the nation's first public safety broadband network.

The group, which includes more than 100 competitive wireless providers including small, rural carriers, says that allowing bids based on smaller geographic proportions will "widen and deepen" coverage in underserved areas and enhance carrier participation in the national broadband network, according to a filing with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which oversees FirstNet.

According to Tim Donovan, VP of legislative affairs at CCA, the group's members are "excited and enthusiastic" about the possibility of partnering with the forthcoming national first responders' network, contrary to speculation earlier in the year that carriers may shy away from the opportunity.

CCA's filing consisted of two major points: First, that FirstNet should leverage existing carrier infrastructure by partnering with CCA members, many of whom have access to coveted rural coverage.

"One of the things in the [FirstNet] legislation is how it doesn't require FirstNet to partner with just one carrier," Donovan said. "There are other options out there to create redundancy."

The statement urges a "granular" approach to carrier partnerships, rather than FirstNet's proposed categories of either national or statewide partnership bids. This would work on a more regional level, according to CCA, and be less exclusive rurally. "Doing so will leverage existing infrastructure deployed by smaller, oftentimes rural carriers to its maximum effect, and prevent inefficient overbuilding in areas where a nationwide carrier does not currently provide service," the statement said.

Donovan said he believes that, due to FirstNet's specific spectrum band access, a multiple-partner network would not affect the operability of a universal nationwide system for first responders.

In a similar vein, the CCA's second suggestion implores FirstNet to take advantage of roaming in order to build out its network in the most timely manner.

"First, CCA encourages FirstNet to maintain its stated policy that Band 14 spectrum will be made immediately available for all participating carriers, regardless of their stage in the deployment process," the statement said. "Second, CCA encourages FirstNet's deployment plan to specifically account for carriers that may be ready to deploy prior to certain stages in FirstNet's timeline."

While rural buildout is not expected until the final stages of the network's five-year buildout plan, CCA's suggestion would allow rural carriers to deploy assets ahead of time if possible. This would monetize FirstNet's excess Band Class 14 spectrum in roaming agreements with carrier partners in order to avoid revenue shortcomings. Donovan said this could be crucial, as FirstNet's allotted funding is not sufficient to build infrastructure on its own. Instead, the network's ability to leverage roaming would prove necessary.

Despite CCA's detailed suggestions, Donovan said the group has no plans to lobby directly for implementation of its goals. "It's a federal procurement process," he said, "so we're continuing to work with Congress."

A spokesman for FirstNet said the organization is "not publishing our responses or making any comments on specific feedback we receive to ensure the integrity of the procurement, as well as to ensure equity for all respondents."

Since publishing its draft RFP earlier in the year, FirstNet has held multiple meetings with government officials and stakeholders to streamline its network plans, as well as answering hundreds of questions online. The organization plans to release a final RFP later this year.

For more:
- see this CCA release

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