FirstNet Authority board approves FY 2021 budget with $46 million for network investment
FirstNet Authority board members this week voted unanimously to approval the organization’s $213 million budget for fiscal year 2021 that includes $46 million allocated for making investments into the nationwide public-safety broadband network.
Approved during the FirstNet Authority’s board meeting, the fiscal year 2021 budget earmarks $83.5 million for the FirstNet Authority’s operating expenses, as well as $83.5 million in reserves for operations.
“The budget matches resources to the strategy, priorities and goals of the organization,” FirstNet Authority board member and Finance Committee Chair Tip Osterthaler said during Tuesday’s board meeting. “This budget does that exceptionally well.
“The FY 2021 budget lays out the next steps for the FirstNet Authority to deliver on its promises to our nation’s public-safety stakeholders.”
Osterthaler began his tenure as the FirstNet Authority board chair on Thursday, two days after the board meeting.
For public-safety subscribers to FirstNet, the $46 million for network investment is of particular interest after the FirstNet Authority approved $218 million in funding to contractor AT&T to expand the FirstNet fleet of deployable assets and complete the first phase of upgrading the FirstNet core to 5G.
FirstNet Authority CFO Kim Farington said that money for network investment during the next fiscal year is included in the budget, although it is “still to be determined” what system enhancements will be funded.
“I can tell you that they will be informed by the roadmap, they will be for public safety, and they will be guided by the investment strategies, principles and processes that the board has approved,” Farington said during the meeting.
The FirstNet Authority is an independent authority within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), but its annual budget is not dependent on tax revenue like most government entities—an important characteristic, especially during the economic slowdown induced by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Instead, the 25-year deal provides AT&T with access to the 20 MHz of prime 700 MHz spectrum licensed to the FirstNet Authority, as well as potentially $6.5 billion in funds that were generated from FCC spectrum auctions several years ago.
In return, AT&T is responsible for building and maintaining the nationwide FirstNet system and making annual payments totaling $18 billion to the FirstNet Authority over the 25-year period of the contract. Of this $18 billion in AT&T payments, about $3 billion is expected to fund FirstNet Authority operations, and about $15 billion is slated to fund enhancements to the FirstNet system—the first of which were approved in June by the FirstNet Authority board for the core upgrade and the new deployable assets.
Tuesday also marked the final FirstNet Authority board meeting for Vice Chair Richard Stanek, who decided to retire to “to pursue an opportunity in the private sector,” according to FirstNet Authority Chair Ed Horowitz.
“Rich, it’s been a pleasure and an honor for me to work alongside of you for the last five years,” Horowitz said during the meeting. “As vice chair, you’ve been a partner and an advisor to me, as we’ve worked to realize the promise of FirstNet.”
Stanek, who served as a sheriff in Minnesota for more than a decade, described serving on the FirstNet Authority board as “both an honor and a great responsibility” and said he has enjoyed “having a front-row seat while FirstNet matured from concept to reality.”
Stanek has participated in his last meeting of the FirstNet Authority board as a member, but he said he will “continue to be FirstNet’s biggest cheerleader.”
Tuesday’s meeting was the last for Horowitz as the FirstNet Authority board chair, but he plans to continue serving as a member for the next year, when his second three-year term on the board is set to expire.