WASHINGTON, D.C.—Commissioners for Harris County, Texas, have approved $5.8 million in local funds to expand the county’s public-safety LTE network, while several other early-builder entities work to complete their broadband projects by the Sept. 30 deadline for the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), representatives said yesterday during a panel at the APCO 2015 show.

Harris County’s system—the first operational public-safety LTE network in the United States—currently has 14 sites and original plans called for 19 sites to be deployed using federal grant funds, according to Todd Early, deputy assistant director for the Texas department of public safety. With county commissioners voting for the infusion of local tax dollars several weeks ago, Harris County will be able to expand the network to a 33 sites, which will provide mobile coverage throughout the county, he said.

In addition to delivering greater LTE connectivity to first responders in Harris County, the county investment makes it more important that policies are established to ensure that the local taxpayer funds are not wasted in the long term, Early said.

“That’s the first local-taxpayer money that’s being invested in that network outside of a federal grant process,” Early said during the session. “What does that mean? That means there has to be some concern about making sure that this equipment and those local taxpayer dollars don’t get stranded, that FirstNet and these early builders work closely through the RFP process to make sure that the existing infrastructure is included where it can be with potential selected vendor or vendors [that build FirstNet].

“We’ll be working hand-in-hand with FirstNet to make sure that both sides do whatever they can to ensure that existing infrastructure is included in the planned buildout.”

Harris County’s ultimate plans call for more than 90 sites to provide first responders with LTE coverage on handheld devices and inside buildings, Early said. The county’s phased deployment is an approach that FirstNet may need to consider as it attempts to build a nationwide public-safety LTE network, he said.

“Those are the challenges that FirstNet faces, as well—how do you provide that portable coverage, how do you provide that in-building coverage?” Early said. “One of the questions we have is: How are you going to allow a jurisdiction [after the request-for-proposal (RFP) process is complete] to come in an augment that. If you have a local jurisdiction that wants to come in and spend money to put in in-building coverage, how is that going to happen, and how does that partnership work?

“Those are all things that, through state consultation, we hope to work with FirstNet on.”

Harris County is the only one of the five entities approved by FirstNet to deploy an early-builder public-safety LTE project that is not utilizing BTOP funds, which must be spent by Sept. 30 under current law. With this in mind, officials for Los Angeles, New Jersey and New Mexico are busy working on their projects to ensure that they are completed by the statutory deadline.

Patrick Mallon, executive director of the Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications System (LA-RICS), said his organization’s project will be done by the BTOP deadline. Although the LA-RICS broadband system has been reduced from 232 sites to 78 sites (76 base stations and two microwave locations)—a change that will “impact our portable coverage significantly,” Mallon said—it will bethe largest public-safety LTE network when it begins operation.