States and territories that seek to “opt-out” of FirstNet and build the public-safety LTE radio access network (RAN) within their borders must clear multiple statutory hurdles and be prepared for FirstNet’s ongoing oversight of its RAN operations for the next 25 years, FirstNet officials said last week.

FirstNet this week is expected to release its official state plans to the governors of most states and territories—the process for three South Pacific territories is less clear. The state-plan release will mark the beginning of a 90-day period in which governors can make an “opt-in” decision by accepting the FirstNet plan—calling for FirstNet nationwide partner AT&T to build the RAN in the state—or pursue the “opt-out” alternative, which requires the state to be responsible for the deployment and maintenance of the RAN within its borders for the next 25 years.

If a governor takes no action by the mid-December deadline, the state or territory will be treated as if its governor made an “opt-in” decision, and AT&T would proceed with the FirstNet plan within the state.

FirstNet Vice Chairman Jeff Johnson said accountability responsibilities for states and FirstNet will depend largely on the governor’s “opt-in/opt-out” decision, noting that Congress mandated that FirstNet create a nationwide public-safety broadband network that would support interoperable communications throughout the country.

“If you opt-in to the plan that was presented to the state, the state will hold us and our partner [AT&T] accountable to that plan—they will make sure that we are doing what we said we would do,” Johnson said during a committee meeting of the FirstNet board last week. “If they opt-out, it switches. We—the government—hold them accountable to the pieces that they’re required to do, if they choose to opt-out.”

On June 19, FirstNet released its initial state plans, which allowed the governors of states and territories to make “opt-in” decisions, which has occurred in 19 states and two territories thus far.

“Many of the states have just realized that they don’t want to be in the cellular business,” FirstNet Chief Customer Officer Rich Reed said. “They don’t want to build the network. They don’t want the financial responsibility. They don’t want the integration responsibilities. They don’t want the technical responsibilities, the staffing responsibilities. They don’t want to be in the cellular business.”

Reed noted that governors legally cannot decide to have their states or territories pursue the “opt-out” alternative until after receiving the official state plan, which will include a figure for the amount of construction-grant funding from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) that would be available under an “opt-out” scenario. In addition, FirstNet wanted to complete its comment process, so state officials would not surprised by the official state plan—a commitment repeatedly voiced by Johnson, Reed said.

Johnson noted that a governor’s decision to “opt-in” to FirstNet does not obligate any public-safety agency within that state or territory to subscribe to FirstNet.

“Even if a state opts in, that doesn’t mean we sell a single device in that state,” Johnson said. “We still have to make the compelling business case that is good for whatever the public-safety entity is.”