Public-safety LTE cell sites built by the Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications System (LA-RICS) were transferred last Friday to AT&T, which is FirstNet’s contractor to build and maintain the nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN).

Although not executed until June 29 and announced today, the agreement to transfer the 76 public-safety LTE cell sites was made in mid-December, about two weeks before California Gov. Jerry Brown announced his decision to “opt-in” to FirstNet and let AT&T build the public-safety broadband system in accordance with FirstNet state plan.

Adding theses hardened public-safety LTE sites from LA-RICS should be a “big advantage” to AT&T and FirstNet as they try to convince first-responder entities in the Los Angeles area to subscribe to FirstNet services, according to LA-RICS Executive Director Scott Edson.

“I believe that most agencies in Los Angeles County will certainly take into account the robust and redundant network that AT&T has now absorbed from LA-RICS as they’re making their decision about what carrier network to go to,” Edson said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications.

The LA-RICS system was the largest of the early-builder public-safety LTE networks that FirstNet allowed to be built and played a key role in helping the FirstNet board develop its strategy to build the NPSBN, according to Chris Sambar, AT&T’s senior vice president for FirstNet.

“The LA-RICS team helped lead the way forward for the nationwide public safety broadband network, and we’re pleased to integrate these assets into FirstNet,” Sambar said in a prepared statement. “This will help us deliver the highest quality public-safety service experience to first responders across Los Angeles County, California and the nation.”

FirstNet CEO Mike Poth echoed this sentiment.

“As one of the FirstNet Early Builder projects, LA-RICS helped to inform the planning of FirstNet through lessons learned,” Poth said in a prepared statement. “It is great to see the lessons learned put into practice as FirstNet is implemented in the state of California. We thank LA-RICS for their dedication to driving innovation for public safety.”

Under the terms of the transfer agreement, AT&T is paying LA-RICS $6 million for the network assets associated with the existing 76 LTE cell sites. In addition, AT&T will pay LA-RICS another $6 million to after LA-RICS builds another 26 LTE sites in Los Angeles County with leftover funds from the Broadband Technology Opportunity Program (BTOP) grant administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

Edson said that LA-RICS officials hope to identify the additional 26 sites—from a list of 40 possibilities—by the end of month.

“Half of those [new 26 cell sites] will be in the mountains, so we’ll have broadband up there where we’re fighting fires,” Edson said.

All of the 26 sites are scheduled to be deployed by September 2020, with some of the sites also hosting network equipment associated with the new LA-RICS P25 system that is supposed to be completed by the end of 2019, Edson said.

In addition, the transfer agreement with AT&T calls for the carrier giant replace 3,300 existing LTE vehicular routers and provide $2.5 million worth of services to install new routers that are certified for FirstNet use, Edson said.

“The agencies that have these older routers now will continue to use the older routers as AT&T transitions them to the AT&T core,” he said. “Once they are transitioned and the new routers are available, then those agencies will make a business decision about what carrier they are going to use.”

Public-safety agencies using the LA-RICS system did not pay for the service, and most augmented the LA-RICS service with a subscription to a wireless carrier—typically Verizon or AT&T—that was used to address coverage gaps in the LA-RICS LTE network, Edson said.