Public-safety entities receiving federal stimulus grants as part of the Broadband Technologies Opportunity Program (BTOP) should learn whether they will be allowed to proceed with their halted LTE projects as early as January, according to a key member of the FirstNet board.

Prior to Congress passing legislation that called for the FirstNet board to oversee the deployment of a nationwide LTE network for first responders, seven public-safety entities received more than $300 million in federal grants to fund individual LTE networks. Many of these networks were scheduled to be operating this year, but NTIA halted the deployments early this year to ensure that the FirstNet board would have input into the initiatives.

FirstNet board members are in the process of visiting all BTOP locations — a process that is expected to conclude this week — and the first three visits proved to be illuminating, FirstNet board member Ed Reynolds told colleagues during last week's FirstNet board meeting, which was webcast.

"We got a much better appreciation for just what [the BTOP entities'] concerns are and what their needs are," Reynolds said. "We just need to move expeditiously to conclude what we need to be telling them. We need to target probably the January timeframe to give them a decision."

FirstNet Chairman Sam Ginn said he would like to get the BTOP issues resolved quickly.

FirstNet board member Wellington Webb said he believes information from the early deployments can help FirstNet better plan the nationwide network, as well as provide an added benefit.

"For those areas where I think the sooner we can approve some of the BTOP projects, I think it also builds a sense of more goodwill among the users at the state and local level to them buying into the national network," said Webb, who attended the Adams County, Colo., outreach visit.

According to Reynolds, the city of Charlotte, N.C., is spending $65,000 per month while it awaits a decision from FirstNet. The state of Mississippi estimates that not being able to proceed with its LTE plans is costing the state $150,000 to $200,000 per month, he said..

Another reason for urgency in the Mississippi situation is that the Mississippi legislature will convene from January to April. Although BTOP grants will cover the cost of the initial 134-site LTE deployment, the legislature needs to appropriate additional funds to cover the cost of operating the proposed network, so direction from FirstNet is important, Reynolds said.