FirstNet opens door to BTOP projects for public-safety LTE
Editor's note: This story has been updated with more detail, quotes and a new headline.
FirstNet board members today unanimously approved letting seven public-safety jurisdictions proceed with negotiations that could allow them to pursue plans to deploy public-safety LTE systems funded by federal stimulus grant money via the Broadband Technologies Opportunity Program (BTOP).
If the jurisdictions meet certain conditions that will be negotiated with FirstNet and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), they can proceed with their LTE projects utilizing all of Band 14 — the 700 MHz spectrum consisting of the 10 MHz previously licensed to the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST) and the 10 MHz D Block that Congress reallocated to public safety last year. Congress determined that Band 14 spectrum would be licensed to FirstNet, which was charged with overseeing the deployment and maintenance of a nationwide broadband network for first responders.
The seven public-safety jurisdictions were awarded federal BTOP grants in 2010 to fund the deployment of 700 MHz LTE networks for first responders, but all of these projects were halted by NTIA early in 2012 to ensure that the FirstNet board would have input into the initiatives.
“I think, initially, when we saw the BTOP issue, we thought it was a great liability, because certainly states, territories and cities were not happy [with the NTIA decision to halt the projects]," FIrstNet Chairman Sam Ginn said during the meeting. "But, after meeting with these various organizations, I think we see it as an opportunity for FirstNet to seize on this and put LTE systems in these states and territories in a way that will allow us to test—with the public-safety community—the architectural standards and all the other things that need to be verified as we move through time.
“So, what looked like a problem early on, we’ve seized as an opportunity—and one that I really think will really work for us.”
In its resolution, the FirstNet board calls BTOP jurisdictions o demonstrate that they have enough funding to complete their projects; they also must commit to building a network that eventually will become part of the FirstNet nationwide network. FirstNet board member Sue Swenson was given the responsibility of negotiating a spectrum-lease agreement with each of the BTOP jurisdictions, with a goal of trying to reach agreements in the next 90 days.
During a press conference after the meeting, Swenson said she believes FirstNet can learn a great deal from BTOP deployments that will prove useful in planning the nationwide network.
“Using the information we got from the site visits and work with other leaders and vendors, we’ve determined that each of these seven grantees could provide a substantial benefit in regards to the FirstNet nationwide deployment and generate invaluable lessons," Swenson said.
“We will move expeditiously forward with the grantees to negotiate and hopefully get these things back on track, which I know the grantees are very anxious to do.”
Ultimately, the decision to lift the public-safety BTOP suspension will rest with NTIA, which put the suspension in place last year. NTIA Assistant Secretary Lawrence Strickling expressed support for the FirstNet resolution.