NTIA cautions against early public-safety LTE deployments
Officials for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) recently asked jurisdictions with plans to deploy public-safety LTE systems during the next year to stop their work to ensure that money is not wasted on equipment that will not integrate into the nationwide broadband network.
Communicated during individual meetings with 700 MHz broadband waiver recipients and during group calls with relevant stakeholders, this request is an attempt by NTIA to have any money spent on LTE deployments fit into the nationwide-network design. That design will be created by the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), which may not exist until Aug. 22.
“Essentially, NTIA is recommending that BTOP jurisdictions hold off on the purchase of LTE equipment,” said Bill Schrier, chairman of the Operator Advisory Committee — a group of jurisdictions that have received waivers to utilize public-safety broadband spectrum in the 700 MHz band. “This is a reversal of NTIA’s previous advice.”
Indeed, federal officials have encouraged public-safety entities to pursue public-safety LTE deployments during the past year. In fact, NTIA representatives spent much of the latter half of 2011 and early 2012 telling federal-grant recipients in the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) that deployment deadlines calling for projects to be two complete by August would not be extended.
But that approach shifted with the enactment of a law in February that reallocated the 700 MHz D Block to public safety and called for Congress to provide $7 billion in funding for the buildout of the first-responder network.
“Our focus now is on ensuring these much-needed investments remain in their communities and that the projects proceed in a manner that supports a single, nationwide interoperable public safety broadband network,” NTIA said in a prepared statement. “We will work with our grantees to achieve this.
“We obviously want any jurisdiction working on a broadband public safety network, regardless whether they are one of our grantees, to be prudent with investments they make before FirstNet develops its blueprint for the nationwide network's architecture. The objective is to avoid investments that must be replaced if they are incompatible with the nationwide network.”
The potential investments are significant, with about $375 million in BTOP funds earmarked for public-safety LTE deployments.
NTIA officials have indicated that they would seek an extension on the BTOP grant deployment deadlines, so entities halting LTE efforts would not lose federal funding, Schrier said. However, at least three BTOP recipients — Charlotte, N.C., the state of Mississippi and Adams County, Colo. — already have received delivery on equipment for their planned deployments and may want to continue, he said.
While some of these projects may proceed as planned, other projects that have been stalled could be halted until the nationwide network design is known, Schrier said.
“If you designed a truly nationwide network, it wouldn’t look the same as having the seven BTOP jurisdictions build out their individual networks,” he said, noting the large number of LTE cores among early deployments as an example.
“It will be up to the FirstNet board to decide how the network will be built, how it will be designed, and how they will do the procurements. I think what NTIA is trying to do is preserve, as much as possible, the authority of the FirstNet board to take those actions without a lot of predetermined networks already being stood up.”
In addition to the NTIA direction, the FCC last week initiated a proceeding to help the agency determine the best way to transition the 700 MHz spectrum licenses to FirstNet. Comments are due on April 20. The public notice of the proceeding is available here.