FirstNet and the seven entities that were awarded Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) grants to deploy public-safety LTE projects recently took key initial steps in the negotiation of lease agreements that would let the projects proceed.

This week, FirstNet — the independent 15-member board assigned to oversee the buildout and operation of a nationwide broadband network for first responders — received a response to its proposed spectrum lease agreement that was crafted by representatives of all seven public-safety BTOP recipients, according to Chuck Robinson, director of shared services for the city of Charlotte.

"I think all of the jurisdictions did a really good job in a very short timeframe of coming to a consensus on almost all of the terms and conditions," Robinson said, noting that the items left for individual negotiations with BTOP recipients would be "minimal," if the BTOP draft is accepted by FirstNet.

The seven public-safety BTOP entities are:

  • Adams County (Colo.) Communications Center
  • City of Charlotte
  • State of Mississippi
  • Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications System Authority
  • Motorola Solutions, on behalf of the San Francisco Bay area
  • State of New Jersey
  • State of New Mexico

Sue Swenson — the FirstNet board member charged with leading the negotiations with the BTOP recipients — last week issued a statement updating the status of negotiations prior to receiving the consensus response.

"We're pleased with the progress we've made thus far in our spectrum lease negotiations with the BTOP public safety projects," Swenson said. "These jurisdictions and FirstNet's team have had some very productive discussions on the draft framework for a lease agreement. After we receive the projects' written feedback on the current draft, we will be in a position to move forward in earnest with more individualized negotiations."

Swenson added that some level of individuality in negotiations with BTOP recipients likely will be necessary, because each project faces unique challenges.

"While the [FirstNet] board has discussed a common set of terms and conditions it wants to see embodied in each agreement, there are likely to be differences in some terms in the final lease agreements given the fact that the projects are at different stages of maturity," Swenson said. "In addition, the board has allowed us the flexibility to capture any special project characteristics in an agreement."

Last May, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) halted the public-safety BTOP projects so that the FirstNet board — created by Congress but not yet appointed at the time — would have input into the initiatives, to ensure that they would fit into the board's vision for a nationwide network.

FirstNet board members in February opened the door for these public-safety BTOP projects to proceed, noting that information learned from real-world LTE deployments could prove valuable as the board works to finalize the network design, operational structure and business model for the much-anticipated network. FirstNet established a 90-day window for negotiations with the BTOP recipients, meaning the goal is to have spectrum lease agreements finalized next month.

Ultimately, the decision to lift the public-safety BTOP suspension will rest with the NTIA, which put the suspension in place last year. NTIA Assistant Secretary Lawrence Strickling expressed support for the FirstNet resolution during the February meeting.