FirstNet lays out roadmap, extends spectrum talks with Texas county

The board of the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) agreed on a roadmap that should set the stage for creation of a definitive business plan and also voted to continue negotiating a spectrum lease agreement with Harris County, Texas, home of the nation's only operating 700 MHz public-safety LTE network.

"We plan to have significant coverage across the U.S. through use of terrestrial coverage similar to what wireless carriers have today. We believe we have charted a course to prove out a successful FirstNet for public safety," said FirstNet General Manager Bill D'Agostino.

FirstNet has already evaluated financial models and network assumptions in an effort to create a sustainable business plan. "We have multiple paths to sustainability," D'Agostino said.

States will need to pay if they want access to FirstNet's network once it built but are not obligated to sign up for access.

It has been two years since Congress passed legislation that formed FirstNet, assigning it the mission to build and operate a nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN). Initially, FirstNet, an independent entity within the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration, had only its appointed board members, which were named in August 2012, and none of its own staffers. However, the authority now has 40 employees on its payroll.

The new roadmap approved during a FirstNet board meeting in New York City sets a number of milestones. Some of those are related to additional staffing and resources for the organization; completion of a process for LTE network proposals; collection of proposals regarding covered leasing agreements for FirstNet's excess network capacity; completion of testing and validation of critical network features and functionality; and initiation of state consultations.

FirstNet's board also approved a "Human Factor Report" from the Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC), which examined the long-range implications of NPSBN on the operations of law enforcement, fire and emergency medical services.

In addition, the board agreed to extend negotiations with Harris County, Texas, which is operating an LTE-based public-safety network over FirstNet spectrum under special temporary authority (STA) from the FCC. For nearly a year, the county and FirstNet have been trying to hammer out details of a long-term spectrum lease that would allow the county to continue accessing FirstNet's 20 MHz block of 700 MHz spectrum.

According to the board's resolution: "There continues to be substantial progress in such negotiations but an additional extension of the negotiations period is required for such negotiations to be completed." The negotiation period now expires on July 23, 2014.

Board member T.J. Kennedy is continuing negotiations on FirstNet's behalf, but D'Agostino is authorized to continue or cease further negotiations with Texas.

Last month, the FCC granted a 180-day extension to the Texas network's STA. At the time, the state said the STA's renewal extension would provide it with "enough time to answer business model questions from FirstNet" while allowing Harris County to maintain uninterrupted services for network users.

Unlike the Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communication System Authority (LA-RICS), which was the first jurisdiction to approve a 700 MHz spectrum-lease pact with the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), Harris County is not a recipient of grant monies from the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), and its 11-site LTE-network was significantly built out prior to FirstNet's formation.

For more:
- see this FirstNet release
- see this FirstNet webpage
- see this MissionCritical Communications article
- see this Urgent Communications article

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