SAN ANTONIO—FirstNet officials are working to finalize the fees that states and territories would pay to use the FirstNet LTE core and FirstNet’s licensed 20 MHz of 700 MHz spectrum in a potential opt-out scenario, but it is not certain whether these figures will be included in the state plans that could be delivered as early as next week, according to FirstNet Chairwoman Sue Swenson.

Under the law that charged FirstNet with the responsibility of building a nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN), states and territories can accept the deployment state plan from FirstNet—to be constructed by AT&T, which was awarded the nationwide FirstNet contract—or pursue the “opt-out” alternative.

Under the “opt-out” alternative, a state would be responsible for building and maintain the LTE radio access network (RAN) within its borders, but the state must pay FirstNet to access the FirstNet LTE core and Band 14 spectrum to provide public-safety services. FirstNet is working with U.S. Department of Commerce officials “to make sure they’re comfortable with” the fees FirstNet would charge each state for access to the nationwide core and spectrum, according to Swenson.

It is possible that these fees will be included in the initial state plans—targeted for release this month, possibly as early as Monday—but each governor will have these figures before the official 90-day decision period begins with the release of the final state plans in September, Swenson said.

“We’re trying to get it into next week, but for sure in the September one,” Swenson said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “At least they’ll have an indication of it, because that’s how they’re going to make the decision. I mean, you have to have that in there. We know how important that is.”

Swenson reiterated the organization’s commitment to share relevant information to governors and key influencers about the obligations and implications associated with both accepting the FirstNet state plan and the “opt-out” alternative.

“I think it’s fine that states have that option [to pursue the ‘opt-out’ alternative]; I think that’s fine,” Swenson said. “We’ve been trying to be as transparent as we can about, ‘This is what you [governors and state officials] have to think about.’

“I always want people to make an informed decision. I don’t want them to [to make an opt-in or opt-out decision] and go, ‘Why did I do this? If only I had known this, why would I have done it?’ So, we’re really trying to go overboard—not to scare them, but just to be truthful and honest about it.”

Rhode Island this week became the eighth state to issue a request for proposals from vendors interested in building a statewide RAN, if the state decides to pursue the "opt-out" alternative. Bids for the Rhode Island procurement are due on July 12.

Last week, FirstNet and AT&T representatives unveiled a new wrinkle in the state-plan program that would allow states to accept the FirstNet deployment plan based on the initial state plan. Several states are candidates for this early “opt-in” alternative, if the state plan addresses the needs of first responders in the state, according to multiple sources.

Some key considerations for governors contemplating a potential early “opt-in” decision include:

  • A desire to give first responders in the state access to dedicated broadband services as quickly as possible. After the governor accepts the state plan, public-safety organizations can subscribe to a FirstNet service that immediately give them prioritized access—and “ruthless preemption” by the end of the year—across all of AT&T’s spectrum bands.
  • A belief that the “opt-out” alternative is not a realistic option for the state, whether the key drawbacks are legal, financial, political, logistical or performance-based in nature.
  • Hope that AT&T will accelerate deployment of the Band 14 public-safety LTE network in the state, which should aid public-safety agencies, create jobs in the state and bolster commercial broadband access (AT&T plans to deploy LTE on 40 MHz of WCS and AWS-3 spectrum as it deploys infrastructure to support the FirstNet system on Band 14). This factor is especially important for states with large rural areas that otherwise might not be a deployment priority for AT&T on a strictly economic standpoint.