Public safety told to stop early LTE deployments

Waiver recipients allowed to build 700 MHz LTE networks for public safety are being told to halt their rollouts while the federal government sorts out the transition process it will use to bring their networks under the umbrella of the First Responder Network Authority, or FirstNet.

According to an article in Urgent Communications, officials with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration are concerned that equipment deployed now may not integrate into the nationwide broadband network design that is planned for the 700 MHz D Block. Therefore, they have told 700 MHz broadband waiver recipients to hold off on infrastructure deployment until FirstNet, which is not even slated for creation until Aug. 22, creates a blueprint for the nationwide network's architecture.

"The objective is to avoid investments that must be replaced if they are incompatible with the nationwide network," said NTIA.

Previously, NTIA representatives 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.

"Essentially, NTIA is recommending that BTOP jurisdictions hold off on the purchase of LTE equipment," Bill Schrier, chairman of the Operator Advisory Committee, told Urgent Communications. "This is a reversal of NTIA's previous advice."

The OAP represents recipients of waivers for early deployment on the 700 MHz public-safety spectrum. On May 11, 2010, the commission granted the 700 MHz waiver requests of 21 public-safety entities, which were required to enter into a lease with the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST) for access to public-safety broadband spectrum.

Meanwhile, the FCC is trying to sort out the disposition of incumbent operators in both the public-safety broadband spectrum and the D Block, which was allocated to public-safety services via the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 that became law on Feb. 22, 2012. Comments on the process for transitioning public-safety LTE networks to FirstNet are due to the FCC this Friday, April 20.

The commission said transition issues related to 700 MHz broadband waiver recipients are the most time-sensitive "because of the near-term deployments planned by some of these jurisdictions and the plans to award contracts by others."

Three jurisdictions have filed interoperability showings that the commission must approve in order for these jurisdictions' LTE networks to go into service: the State of Texas , Charlotte, NC, and the Adams County, Colo., Communication Center. All three have reportedly received the LTE equipment needed for deployment, and the FCC said Texas and Charlotte contemplate launching service on May 31 and June 30, respectively.

The FCC is seeking public comment on what actions it should take to effectuate the transition of these and other networks to FirstNet, including the possibility of issuing a stay to halt deployment by the waiver recipients in order to spare them from incurring any additional costs. The agency also suggested that it could simply rescind all of the waiver authorizations that it previously issued.

For more:
- see this Urgent Communications article
- see this FCC release

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