Procedures still not set for transferring 700 MHz spectrum to FirstNet

Though the board of the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) that will oversee the buildout of the nationwide public-safety LTE network is set for appointment by Aug. 20, the process for transferring the network's 700 MHz spectrum to the authority is still unclear.

The 700 MHz broadband spectrum is currently licensed to the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST), which has in turn leased some of it to about 20 jurisdictions. Most of those leases are slated to expire near the start of September, and PSST has recommended to federal officials that the spectrum license be transferred to FirstNet around that time frame, PSST Chairman Harlin McEwen said in an Urgent Communications article.

However, McEwen said PSST has not received any indication regarding the transfer timing or procedures.

The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 that was passed in February reallocated the 700 MHz D-Block spectrum to public safety and included $7 billion in federal funding from forthcoming spectrum auctions to help pay for a nationwide LTE network for first responders. The law also mandated that the FirstNet board be seated by Aug. 20 but did not include a provision specifying procedures for transferring the 700 MHz spectrum license from PSST to FirstNet.

Further complicating matters is the status of LTE deployments using the spectrum that was leased to multiple jurisdictions. All of the PSST spectrum leases except for one held by Texas are expiring within the next two months. The leases were supposed to be renewed every two years, but that was before Congress passed the February law setting up FirstNet to oversee a nationwide public-safety wireless broadband network using the 700 MHz band. The current Texas lease will not expire until summer 2013, according to Urgent Communications.

Earlier this spring, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) instructed jurisdictions that had previously secured federal grant money to roll out LTE systems to halt all work until FirstNet is operational and can guide the deployments. NTIA has also requested that none of the existing spectrum leases be renewed. Previously, NTIA representatives had instructed jurisdictions that won grants in the federal Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) to pursue rapid deployments so they could complete their projects by August. Some $375 million in BTOP funds was set aside for public-safety LTE deployments.

For more:
- see this Urgent Communications article

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