Plans to deploy a statewide LTE network for Oklahoma first responders continue to be on hold while the state awaits an FCC ruling on its 700 MHz waiver request and word on the possibility that legislators may divert funding for the project to other uses.

Passage of legislation that reallocated the 700 MHz D Block to public safety and provided $7 billion in funding has added a layer of complexity to the matter, because the governance structure associated with the nationwide LTE network for first responders could create sovereignty questions regarding ownership of network elements, said Ty Todd, communications manager for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.

But the primary issue for Oklahoma is securing a 700 MHz waiver from the FCC, Todd said.

“We’re waiting impatiently for our waiver and are still assessing how the passage of the legislation will impact us,” Todd said. “If we had the waiver in place, we’d go ahead and start building out the network, and the underlying network is still what’s critical to us.”

Indeed, the underlying broadband network would provide backhaul from LTE sites for the proposed public-safety broadband network, but the state of Oklahoma also plans to leverage the fiber and microwave network in all of the state’s 77 counties to enable new services, greater efficiencies and the ability to save ongoing expenses associated with leasing connectivity from telecom carriers, Todd said.

While these benefits could be realized whether the public-safety LTE network is deployed in Oklahoma, Todd said he believes legislators will want to use the project funding for other purposes if the FCC does not approve the waiver request before the end of the month.

“Public safety is very popular,” he said. “So, what we have to try to do is utilize that popularity and build something that achieves all of our goals for our public safety network” and for the underlying network.

Since the inception of the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), Oklahoma has ranked third in the nation in the number of declared disasters, be it manmade incidents like the Oklahoma City bombing or natural disasters, such as tornadoes, ice storms and wildfires, Todd said. If most of the new laws’ initial buildout funds are targeted to major metropolitan areas — something Oklahoma does not have — the state could wait some time for federal LTE funding, he said.

“All of that is speculation right now,” Todd said, noting that priorities have not been announced yet. “But for us to be put back wouldn’t be acceptable. We have a need, and we have a need now — and we have the funding now.”

Related stories: