Three BTOP grantees will not get to deploy LTE over FirstNet spectrum

The board of the First Responders Network Authority (FirstNet) declared an impasse at its Tuesday meeting regarding Band 14 spectrum-lease agreements with three of the seven original jurisdictions that received grants under the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP).

Sue Swenson, FirstNet

Swenson (Image source: FirstNet)

Time has run out to settle outstanding issues with the Adams County Communications Center in Adams County, Colo.; the City of Charlotte, N.C.; and the New Jersey Department of the Treasury, said FirstNet board member Sue Swenson, who led the talks on behalf of FirstNet.

The end date for the public-safety BTOP projects is Sept. 30, 2013, and the grant recipients can either submit an extension request detailing how their project will proceed without a LTE component and include a revised project plan that incorporates broadband communications for public safety or initiate the closeout process for the grant.

But the three jurisdictions will no longer have the option of accessing FirstNet's 700 MHz Band 14 spectrum for their BTOP projects. FirstNet indicated it will try to work with the jurisdictions to find a use for any LTE equipment they have purchased.

"While we were hopeful these talks would conclude successfully, in the end we couldn't finalize agreements that made sense given FirstNet's task of designing, deploying and operating a nationwide, interoperable public safety broadband network," said Swenson.

In July, Mississippi's Wireless Communications Commission froze construction on its $56 million LTE network for public safety, saying spectrum-lease negotiations with FirstNet had stalled.

FirstNet's board on Tuesday voted to extend spectrum-lease negotiations with the Executive Office of the State of Mississippi and Motorola Solutions for the Bay Area Regional Interoperable Communications Systems Authority (BayRICS) to Sept. 30. FirstNet is also still negotiating with the State of Texas, which was not a BTOP recipient.

The seven BTOP grant recipients had their funding for LTE public-safety networks halted last year by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. NTIA was concerned the projects might be incompatible with the nationwide public safety broadband network (NPSBN) being crafted by FirstNet, which assumed control of the Band 14 700 MHz spectrum that the BTOP grantees had intended to use.

At its Tuesday meeting, FirstNet also formerly announced approval of a spectrum lease with the state of New Mexico, which now must request NTIA restart its BTOP funding. The Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications System Authority (LA-RICS), which was the first BTOP grantee to sign a FirstNet spectrum-lease agreement, was notified last Sunday that NTIA has lifted its partial suspension of funding for the LA SafetyNet public-safety project.

In addition, FirstNet's board approved a $194 million fiscal year 2014 budget and announced a Sept 5 delivery date for a report from the special review committee investigating allegations of a lack of transparency and potential conflicts of interest. The investigation was launched in response to allegations from board member Paul Fitzgerald, the sheriff of Story County, Iowa.

Further, Bill D'Agostino, FirstNet's general manager, announced that 54 responses to FirstNet request for information (RFI) for devices are being reviewed.

On the personnel front, FirstNet named as its new CFO Randy Lyon, formerly of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). A chief of staff should also be coming on board soon.

FirstNet board member William Keever, ex-CEO of Vodafone Asia who earlier held leadership positions at AirTouch, is leaving the board upon his one-year term's expiration. Jeff Johnson, Sue Swenson and Teri Takai were reappointed to three-year terms. One board seat remains vacant.

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

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