FirstNet board members this week approved extensions for entities to negotiate a spectrum-lease agreement with FirstNet, which will be a major step in their efforts to pursue plans to deploy Band 14 700 MHz LTE networks for first responders.

Recipients of stimulus grants from the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) now have until Aug. 13 to negotiate a lease arrangement with FirstNet—the licensee for the 20 MHz of spectrum that will be used for the nationwide LTE system for first responders—in order to use the airwaves for their LTE projects, which eventually will become part of FirstNet’s nationwide network. This is the third extension for negotiations with the BTOP entities.

In a separate resolution, the FirstNet board approved a similar extension to Aug. 29 with the state of Texas, through which Harris County has deployed the only operational public-safety LTE network to date. Harris County officials would like to expand the existing network, but work on that phase of the project will not begin until the state of Texas agrees to a spectrum lease with FirstNet.

For the city of Charlotte, N.C., agreement on the language for a spectrum-lease arrangement is close, according to Chuck Robinson, the city’s director of shared services.

“We have no real issues,” Robinson said during an interview with Urgent Communications. “There’s some tweaking going on, but it’s all pretty minor.”

While the negotiations with FirstNet on the spectrum-lease agreement are proceeding well, additional time may be needed after the language is finalized before Charlotte approves a spectrum-lease deal, Robinson said. At issue is the fact that the city has been spending about $60,000 per month since the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) suspended the BTOP projects last year, and the city needs to be able to address this financial gap before proceeding with plans to deploy LTE, he said.

“To be honest with you, the bigger issue for us is that the suspension has created a financial hole, and we’re still working in partnership with FirstNet to see if there is a resolution to that hole,” Robinson said. “Because, without finding that resolution [to the funding gap], there’s no purpose in executing a spectrum-management lease agreement.”

During a special meeting conducted early this month, the FirstNet board approved a spectrum-lease agreement with the Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications System Authority (LA-RICS), which became the first public-safety entity to get permission from FirstNet to use the 20 MHz of 700 MHz airwaves for the buildout of a first-responder LTE network.

Approval of the deal clears the path for LA-RICS to get permission from NTIA to utilize $154.6 million in BTOP grants to deploy its LTE network.Other than LA-RICS, no other BTOP recipients have reached agreement with FirstNet on a spectrum-lease arrangement.