Under the law that established FirstNet, governors in all 56 states and territories have the choice of making an “opt-in” decision—accepting the FirstNet deployment plan and allowing AT&T to build the LTE radio access network (RAN) within the state’s borders at no cost to the state—or pursuing the “opt-out” alternative, which would require the state to be responsible for building and maintaining the RAN for the next 25 years.

FirstNet released actionable state plans on June 19, and the governors in 20 states and territories have made “opt-in” decisions to date. No states are allowed to make an “opt-out” decision until receiving the final state plan from FirstNet.

FirstNet officials have not committed to a date for releasing the final state plans, stating only that the final state plans would be released in “mid-September.” However, FirstNet officials have expressed the organization’s intention to distribute the final state plans within 45 days of receiving comments on the initial state plans on Aug. 4. Based on that, the final state plans would be distributed by Sept. 18 or Sept. 19 early next week.

By law, governors will have 90 days to make the “opt-in/opt-out” decision for their states or territories after FirstNet delivers its final state plans, meaning the decision would have to be made by mid-December. If governors take no action, their states or territories effectively are treated as “opt-in” states, with AT&T building out the RAN within its borders.

States and territories that choose to pursue the “opt-out” alternative must complete a request for proposals (RFP) process to select a RAN vendor within 180 days, and submit a RAN proposal to the FCC within 60 days after that. The FCC will determine whether the state’s alternative RAN plan will be interoperable with the nationwide FirstNet system. If the FCC grants its approval—something the FCC hopes to achieve within 90 days of receiving the alternative-RAN submission—the alternative RAN proposal must be approved by NTIA and the state must reach a spectrum-lease agreement with FirstNet before the state can finalize its “opt-out” status.

Most sources familiar with the process have expressed the belief that NTIA would conduct its construction-grant funding assessment during the NTIA review. However, some state representatives have noted that could be problematic, noting that a decrease in the construction-grant funding could negatively impact the economics of the alternative-RAN plan submitted by the potential “opt-out” state to the FCC.

No state or territory has asked whether it could complete the construction-grant portion of the review process early, so it is not clear whether such a request would be a legal option, according to the NTIA official.