FirstNet board members today are expected to approve spectrum-lease agreements with the state of New Jersey and Adams County, Colo., after the FirstNet finance committee yesterday unanimously recommended the completion of both deals, largely clearing the path for the two public-safety LTE projects to proceed.

Assuming the board approves the spectrum-lease agreements, the two initiatives funded by Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) grants still would need approval from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to restart.

In the wake of Congress passing the law that created FirstNet, NTIA last year froze funding for all public-safety LTE projects using BTOP funds, so FirstNet could ensure that the projects would integrate into the planned nationwide broadband network for first responders. However, NTIA has lifted the freeze on public-safety BTOP entities that have negotiated a spectrum-lease agreement with FirstNet.

So far, FirstNet has signed spectrum-lease agreements with only two entities: the Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications System Authority (LA-RICS) and the state of New Mexico.

Three public-safety BTOP recipients are not scheduled to have spectrum-lease agreements: the city of Charlotte, N.C., the state of Mississippi, and Motorola Solutions, on behalf of the Bay Area Regional Interoperable Communications Systems Authority (BayRICS) that serves the San Francisco Bay area.

During discussion about the New Jersey and Adams County negotiations, the committee was informed about key aspects of the projects. FirstNet General Manager Bill D’Agostino said the Adams County project will have 18-20 sites that will be used by 2,000 first responders in the 1,200 square miles of Adams County and the Denver airport service area.

Given its close proximity to the FirstNet technical headquarters and the Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) offices in Boulder, the Adams County project will serve as a “real-world testbed” that will be used to address issues about coverage, network speeds and core interoperability, D’Agostino said. The project also will be leveraged to test end-user devices and provide “high-level demonstrations” of public-safety functionality, he said.

D’Agostino noted that FirstNet Deputy General Manager TJ Kennedy “appropriately” did not participate in the negotiations with Adams County. Prior to joining FirstNet, Kennedy worked for Raytheon, the primary vendor for the Adams County project.

Kennedy did make a presentation on the proposed spectrum-lease agreement with the state of New Jersey, which revised its plans to focus on deployable-network strategies using “cells on wheels” and “systems on wheels.”

“Specifically, it will be capable of boosting communications in areas where they have high capacity needs, as well as dealing with compromised networks during disasters or other emergencies,” Kennedy said during the finance committee meeting, which was webcast. “New Jersey will work through proof-of-concept implementations in three locations: the Route 21 corridor, southern New Jersey near Camden, and along the Jersey shore and the Atlantic City area. They’ll also have additional deployables just for emergency-management purposes.

“The goal is really to try to leverage the ability to help FirstNet with our deployable strategy. … Also, to be able to work through some of the network-operations-center communication that will have to happen during the use of any deployables and how that will operate within the network framework.”

Separately, the FirstNet finance committee also recommended extending negotiations with the state of Texas for a spectrum-lease arrangement that would provide more stability to the Harris County LTE system—the only operational public-safety LTE system in the country at the moment—to use the 700 MHz broadband spectrum licensed to FirstNet. The FCC recently renewed the special temporary authority (STA) for Harris County to use the spectrum until Feb. 24, and the proposed FirstNet negotiating period also would be extended to Feb. 24.