FirstNet board OKs spending increase, continues special review process

WESTMINSTER, Colo.--The board of the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) approved resolutions aimed at expanding its budget for the rest of the fiscal year and creating a new organizational structure. In addition, board members were updated on the special review committee's activities and negotiations over spectrum-lease agreements that are needed to restart seven public-safety LTE network rollouts.

LTE antenna

LTE equipment outside of Public Safety Broadband Stakeholder Conference in Westminster, Colo.

The resolutions were proposed by FirstNet's General Manager Bill D'Agostino during the board's June 4 meeting, held in conjunction with the Public Safety Communications Research Program's 2013 Public Safety Broadband Stakeholder Conference.

D'Agostino intends to hire full-time employees to assume many functions being performed by board members and temporary consultants and is reviewing terms and conditions on new contracts. The board agreed to increase authorized spending to $20 million and commitments to $50 million for fiscal year 2013, subject to its approval of the acquisition strategy.

Board member Kevin McGinnis appeared to address transparency issues clouding FirstNet's use of outside contractors, as it laid the groundwork for the 700 MHz LTE-based national public-safety broadband network (NPSBN).

"By necessity, as we were a board without staff from last September to the present, we've had to operate on faith in a degree, approving budgets for people to help start putting building blocks in place, and I don't think that faith was misplaced. We could have communicated better among ourselves perhaps and externally perhaps, but, you know, we're learning," he said.

Concerns about transparency and potential conflicts of interest were raised by FirstNet board member Paul Fitzgerald during the group's April 23 meeting, resulting in the creation last month of a Special Review Committee. Wellington Webb, also a board member and head of the committee, said this week the committee has organized two subcommittees and engaged legal counsel.

Fitzgerald, who is recuperating from a health issue, told FierceBroadbandWireless via email that he believes his concerns are best resolved within the FirstNet board and said he is "very pleased" McGinnis formed the review committee. Though declining to comment on specifics regarding issues he raised, Fitzgerald--sheriff of Story County, Iowa--said members of the public-safety community have encouraged his push "for openness and transparency of everything we do," which, he added, includes addressing the board's "actual or perceived conflicts of interests."

Fitzgerald said he wants his public-safety colleagues to "have enough information to make their own informed judgment" about FirstNet. "I believe the public will trust us and support our new network as long as we are fully open with them at all stages," he added.

Also discussed at this week's meeting were spectrum lease agreements between FirstNet and seven public-safety BTOP fund grantees and the State of Texas for Harris County. Board member Sue Swenson indicated agreements may not be reached by the June 12 deadline and said she would ask each of the BTOP projects if they want to extend their negotiation period.

Multiple sources 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 release
- see this UrgentComm article

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