FCC commissioners today unanimously approved a report and order that outlines the criteria that will be used by the agency in its interoperability review of applications by states choosing to pursue the “opt-out” alternative to FirstNet and nationwide contractor AT&T building the LTE radio access network (RAN) within their borders.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai noted that the report and order is the latest in a series of actions that the agency has taken to support FirstNet, which is charged with building a nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN).

“This is all just one part of an ongoing and overarching plan to make sure that, when the next disaster strikes, our first responders in the field, our call-center dispatchers, our EMTs, our police officers, our firefighters and others will have the tools that they need to save lives,” Pai said during the meeting.

Lisa Fowlkes, chief of the FCC’s public-safety and homeland-security bureau, told reporters that the report and order approved today is “essentially the same” as the draft document released earlier this month, which gives states pursing the “opt-out” alternative 240 day to provide the FCC with an alternative RAN plan and calls for the FCC to complete its interoperability review within an “aspirational” 90-day shot-clock window.

FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said he supports today’s order—“hopefully, we struck the right balance, providing states with the ability to make an informed choice and FirstNet with the certainty needed to proceed,” he said—but emphasized that he believes the FCC should complete its review within 90 days.

“I am a little disappointed that the commission’s 90-day shot clock for the review of state alternative plans is just aspirational. The commission has a history of aspirational shot clocks that seem to be stopped and started at will. In fact, they’ve proven to be as reliable as a sun dial on a cloudy day.

“The item states, however, that the shot clock will only be suspended for special circumstances, such as a national, state or local emergency that requires diversion of commission staff resources to address the situation. I expect the commission to live up to this commitment. Ultimately, the commission must do what it can to move the process along, so this network can finally be built.”

FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, a Democrat, noted that she often differs with her Republican counterparts on the commission, “but when it comes to public safety, there is no debate.” Determining whether to accept the FirstNet deployment plan for a state or pursue the “opt-out” alternative is a “momentous” one for each governor, she said.

“To be completely transparent, I fully believe in FirstNet’s mission and personally hope that each state will elect to opt in. But Congress expressly and rightly afforded each state with the ability to opt out of FirstNet, and this option is what we sought to capture in this order.

“If some say that opting out is an impossible feat, my answer is that was not Congress’s intent. Congress intended to give states a meaningful, if difficult, opportunity to decide if it is in their best interest to submit an alternate plan to the commission.”

Roberto Mussenden, attorney advisor for the FCC, said that the agency will not address whether an opt-out state should have to use the FirstNet LTE core to provide public-safety services. In addition, the order will seek comments on FirstNet’s interoperability-compliance matrix for the FCC that was revised earlier this week. The scope of FCC review was narrowed, but the excluded items will need to be included in any final opt-out solution, according to FirstNet’s FCC filing that was published on Tuesday.

“While FirstNet is removing these requirements from the scope of the FCC’s review, it is important to note that these requirements are anticipated to be included as part of NTIA’s review and/or in FirstNet’s network policies,” FirstNet stated in the filing. “Thus, removing these requirements from the interoperability compliance matrix will not reduce the scope of the interoperability requirements necessary for opt-out state integration.”