FirstNet allows more time for BTOP spectrum-lease negotiations

More than a year after work was halted on seven public-safety LTE networks, negotiations with the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) for spectrum lease agreements that are needed to restart the programs remain unresolved.

FirstNet announced that it extended the negotiation period for 700 MHz spectrum lease agreements through July 12, which is five months after it first authorized such discussions.

On Feb.12, 2013, FirstNet's board authorized Sue Swenson to cut deals with seven Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) public-safety funding recipients over a 90-day period. On May 8, the board extended the negotiation period through June 12. However, Swenson, a FirstNet board member, subsequently reported that she and each of the recipients have concluded that an additional 30-day extension of the negotiation period is necessary.

The seven BTOP grantees were forced to halt their 700 MHz LTE deployments during spring 2012 when funding was partially suspended by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. NTIA, which oversees FirstNet, was concerned that the BTOP projects might not be interoperable with the planned national public-safety broadband network (NPSBN) authorized by Congress in February 2012.

FirstNet now holds the single license for 700 MHz Band 14 public-safety broadband spectrum, which is why a lease agreement is necessary to enable the BTOP projects to move forward using that spectrum.

The seven projects are: the Adams County (Colorado) Communications Center; the City of Charlotte (North Carolina); the Executive Office of the State of Mississippi; the Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications System Authority; Motorola Solutions (San Francisco Bay area); the New Jersey Department of the Treasury; and the New Mexico Department of Information Technology.

Swenson is also negotiating a spectrum lease agreement with the State of Texas for Harris County, which was not a BTOP recipient.

Sources have told FierceBroadbandWireless that negotiations stalled because the jurisdictions remain concerned about spectrum lease terms. For example, because individual states can opt out of FirstNet participation, there is a risk that a BTOP grantee could build out its network only to lose access to the 700 MHz spectrum if its home state declines to sign on with FirstNet.

For more:
- see this FirstNet resolution (PDF)

Related articles:
FirstNet board OKs spending increase, continues special review process
FirstNet reports progress on restarting BTOP LTE projects
FirstNet ready to resume early public-safety LTE projects
FirstNet may soon decide fate of suspended BTOP-funded networks