FirstNet today granted an extension through July 12 for entities receiving stimulus grants through the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) program to negotiate spectrum-lease arrangements, so that they can proceed with public-safety LTE projects that will become part of the nationwide broadband network for first responders.

During last week’s FirstNet board meeting, Sue Swenson—the board member leading the negotiations with the public-safety BTOP recipients—said there had been “significant progress” but that the terms had not been finalized.

“I was hoping to be in a different place today, but—as a result of the review yesterday—there are members of the board who still have some questions about agreement and the form of the agreement that we have,” Swenson said during the meeting last Tuesday. “Unfortunately, we’re not going to be in a position today to conclude that, which is fine. … The early part of negotiations is easy and when you get down to the 11th hour, it’s always challenging.”

To extend the negotiating period, FirstNet had to get approval from the BTOP recipients, which was no problem, according to Chuck Robinson, director of shared services for the city of Charlotte, N.C.

“There [was] a consensus among the BTOP recipients that we ask for a 30-day extension,” Robinson said during an interview with Urgent Communications.

One concern voiced by representatives of some BTOP recipients last week was that the delays in negotiating the spectrum-lease deal with FirstNet might make it logistically impossible for the recipients to meet a September 2014 deadline for spending the grants, which are administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). However, that apparently will not be an issue, because the deadline has been changed, Robinson said.

“We’re being told that NTIA has approval to extend the [grant-spending deadline] to September 2015,” Robinson said.

Last May, the NTIA halted the public-safety BTOP projects, so that the FirstNet board—created in law by Congress but not yet appointed at the time—would have input into the initiatives, to ensure that they would fit into the board’s vision for the nationwide network.

FirstNet board members in February opened the door for these public-safety BTOP projects to proceed, noting that information learned from real-world LTE deployments could prove valuable as the board works to finalize the network design, operational structure and business model for the much-anticipated network. FirstNet initially established a 90-day window for negotiations with the BTOP jurisdictions—a time period that has been extended twice.