Governors will have the most crucial financial information when they receive final state plans from FirstNet next month, but the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) review process may not be finalized until later, NTIA officials said last week during an APCO 2017 session.

FirstNet and its contractor—AT&T—released initial state plans on June 19, but those plans did not include some key data points, such as how much NTIA construction-grant money a state could receive, as well as how much each state or territory would pay to access FirstNet’s LTE core and the 20 MHz of 700 MHz Band 14 spectrum that is licensed to FirstNet.

These pieces of information are expected to be available to governors when the final state plans are delivered in mid-September. At that point, governors will have 90 days to decide to accept the deployment plan proposed by FirstNet and AT&T—known as an “opt-in” decision—or to pursue the “opt-out” alternative, which calls for the state to build and maintain the radio access network (RAN).

However, it is likely that an explanation of NTIA’s detailed review process will not be released with the final state plans, in part because the nomination of David Redl to serve as NTIA’s assistant secretary has not yet been approved, according to Marsha MacBride, NTIA’s associate administrator for NTIA’s Office of Public Safety Communications,

“The goal was always to have the final document out with the delivery of the state plans; unfortunately, given our change in administration, that timeline has slipped a little bit,” MacBride said during an APCO 2017 session entitled “FirstNet State Plans and the Governor’s Decision.” “We have a document ready. It’s under review, and it’s going to have undergo a process, but we are push, push, push, push, pushing to get it out as soon as we possibly can.

“I hope it’s not too long after the state plans are released but certainly before an opt-in or opt-out decision has to be made under the statute. We’re also willing to talk to any states one-on-one about what issues they may have, what our current thinking is, and what might change.”

States with a governor that chooses to pursue the “opt-out” alternative are required to complete procurement of an alternative RAN plan and secure FCC approval for demonstrating interoperability. At that point, the state would need to pass an NTIA review process—as well as sign a spectrum-lease agreement with FirstNet—before being allowed to fulfill its “opt-out” RAN plans.

Governors and their advisors should be aware that the “opt-out” alternative requires the state to assume significant responsibilities, according to Carolyn Dunn, direct of NTIA’s State Alternative Plan Program (SAPP).

“You are building, you are operating, you are maintaining, and you are improving the radio access network over that 25-year period, or that same period that exists with the FirstNet [nationwide] contract—and it’s got to operate seamlessly with the NPSBN,” Dunn said during a APCO 2017 session entitled “FirstNet State Plans and the Governor’s Decision.”

With this in mind, Dunn said that NTIA’s review process will evaluate whether a potential “opt-out” state can demonstrate the ability to meet legal thresholds in the following five areas:

  • Technical capabilities and funding to support the state’s alternative RAN;
  • Ability to maintain ongoing interoperability with the nationwide FirstNet system;
  • Ability to complete the project within specified comparable timelines to the state;
  • Cost-effectiveness of the alternative state plan; and
  • Comparable security, coverage and quality of service to the nationwide FirstNet system.