LA-RICS approves spectrum-lease agreement with FirstNet
Board members for the Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications System (LA-RICS) yesterday voted to approve a spectrum-lease agreement with FirstNet, marking the first time that an individual jurisdiction has completed this important first step in proceeding with the implementation of a public-safety LTE network on 700 MHz airwaves.
LA-RICS was one of seven entities that received stimulus grants through the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) in order to build and operate a public-safety LTE network, and received the largest grant amount—$154.6 million. But these public-safety BTOP initiatives were halted by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) more than a year ago, with NTIA officials stating the need to ensure that the BTOP initiatives would integrate with the FirstNet vision of a nationwide broadband network for first responders.
All seven BTOP recipients have been negotiating a spectrum-lease arrangement with FirstNet—the licensee for public safety’s 20 MHz of broadband spectrum in the 700 MHz swath—since February. Initially, the base agreement was supposed to be completed by May, but two 30-day extensions have been granted, so that the BTOP recipients could finalize the terms of their deals with FirstNet, which has been led by board member Sue Swenson during the negotiations.
During a FirstNet board meeting held early this month, Swenson said there had been “significant progress” but that the terms of the base agreement had not been finalized.
“ Unfortunately, we’re not going to be in a position today to conclude that, which is fine. … The early part of negotiations is easy and when you get down to the 11th hour, it’s always challenging,” Swenson said during the meeting.
Yesterday’s LA-RICS approval indicates that the basic wording for the spectrum-lease agreement has been finalized, according to numerous sources. Each of the seven BTOP recipients needs to approve the agreement—which in each case will be sprinkled with some additional language designed to address unique circumstances in each geographic region—before their projects can proceed.
But signing a spectrum-lease agreement with FirstNet is not enough to allow a BTOP recipient to proceed with its public-safety LTE project. The final decision officially rests with NTIA, which has to lift the suspension in order for the entities to use the BTOP grant money. However, NTIA officials have indicated publicly that the agency plans to lift the suspension if FirstNet signs a spectrum-lease agreement with the BTOP entity.
Industry sources also expect this spectrum-lease agreement to impact the public-safety LTE project in Harris County, Texas. That network—currently the only such network operating in the country—is utilizing the 700 MHz broadband spectrum under a temporary arrangement with the FCC. Harris County officials have said that they do not want to invest more money to complete the network deployment until a spectrum-lease agreement is reached with FirstNet.