Right now, all 700 MHz broadband waiver recipients planning to use Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) federal grant funds to build public-safety LTE networks plan to proceed with their projects. But those without federal funding may be reconsidering their initiatives after a new law was passed last month.

Representatives of those jurisdictions that have received waivers to utilize public-safety broadband spectrum in the 700 MHz band — known as the Operator Advisory Committee — met last Thursday in Boulder, Colo., to discuss their progress and plans in light of the recent passage of a federal law that reallocated the 700 MHz D Block spectrum to public safety. The law also provides $7 billion to fund the buildout of a nationwide LTE network for first responders.

"It seems that, generally, the BTOP recipients are moving forward with their projects," said OAC Chairman Bill Schrier — who also is the chief technology officer for the city of Seattle — during an interview with Urgent Communications. "I think the rest of the waiver recipients are continuing their planning work but are still trying to decide whether to move forward."

One entity that did not receive a BTOP grant, but which is moving ahead with its LTE buildout plans, is Harris County, Texas. In fact, that project is moving "full speed ahead" and is expected to be the first public-safety broadband network to become operational on May 31, Schrier said.

Not far behind is the city of Charlotte, N.C., a BTOP grant recipient that is scheduled to have its LTE network operational on June 30, in anticipation of integrating the new communications network into the security plans associated with the Democratic National Convention, which Charlotte will host in September.

Under the new law, the nationwide network deployment and operation will be overseen by the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), a new entity within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) that is supposed to be established by August.

With the possibility of public-safety LTE networks being operational before FirstNet exists, public-safety officials are working to create a smooth transition plan that lets waiver jurisdictions continue to operate their networks as the spectrum license is transferred from the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST) to FirstNet.

"They have to have a [spectrum] lease from the licensee — whoever that is — in order to operate their networks or to continue to operate their networks," Schrier said.

Indeed, while all parties involved seem to agree on the intent of having a smooth spectrum-license migration, the actual mechanics of completing the task still need to be determined, said PSST Chairman Harlin McEwen. In addition to ensuring that the 10 MHz of PSST is transferred properly to FirstNet, the hope is that the 10 MHz of D Block spectrum also will be part of the new license.

"Right now, they only have access to the 5x5 [PSST spectrum] and, of course, there is no access to the D Block yet," McEwen said during an interview with Urgent Communications.

Because all parties agree that making the full 20 MHz of contiguous broadband spectrum in the 700 MHz band available to public safety is the ultimate intent, McEwen said that he is hopeful that the procedural issues will be resolved before Charlotte uses the spectrum to help secure the Democratic National Convention in September.

"I think that will solved long before then," McEwen said. "But it's going to take a lot of work on the part of a lot of people who are coordinating with each other to make this all happen."

With the spectrum oversight scheduled to move from the FCC to FirstNet in a few months, Schrier questioned whether the FCC would be comfortable politically granting any more 700 MHz waiver requests before its jurisdiction over the airwaves lapses. If the FCC does not grant any more waivers, the states of Oklahoma and Nevada have indicated that funding earmarked for their public-safety LTE projects likely will be redirected to fund other initiatives.

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