FirstNet Authority board approves additional investments into 5G network core
FirstNet board members this week unanimously approved a resolution authorizing the FirstNet Authority staff to obligate reinvestment funds from AT&T to pay operations and maintenance costs associated with upgrading the FirstNet core to 5G during 2021 and in future years.
FirstNet Authority CEO Ed Parkinson said the measure—Resolution 108—will help the organization ensure that FirstNet remains a “state-of-the-art” system by funding a multi-phase upgrade to 5G that began with last year’s decision to authorization reinvestment money into 5G core development.
“[Passing Resolution 108] will ensure that public safety is going to continue to benefit from the unique capabilities of the NPSBN, such as priority, preemption, and mission-critical push to talk [MCPTT] as networks evolve from 4G to 5G,” Parkinson said prior to the vote on the item during Wednesday’s FirstNet Authority board meeting.
“Today, we are taking further steps as we get closer to the operatization of FirstNet with the initial 5G capabilities. The proposed resolution will seek to authorize additional investment resources to support this initiative.”
Resolution 108 was approved unanimously by both the FirstNet Authority finance committee and full board without any public questions or discussion.
In the resolution, the FirstNet Authority board authorizes its management “to take all actions necessary, including the obligation of funds from the Reinvestment in Network Enhancement Fund, for operation and maintenance expenses associated with the Initial Core Generational Upgrade through calendar year 2021. The Board further resolves to authorize management to obligate funds from the Reinvestment in Network Enhancement Fund for this purpose beyond calendar year 2021 via the annual budget process.”
During its September meeting, the FirstNet board earmarked $46 million in reinvestment funds that can be spent on network enhancements during fiscal year 2021, but there was no indication provided during the meeting or in the resolution how much of this money would be directed to making the FirstNet core ready for 5G services.
Under the 2012 law that established the FirstNet Authority, the FirstNet system is supposed to be a financially self-sustaining network, even though Congress provided just $7 billion for a project that experts estimated would cost more than $50 billion to build.
But the FirstNet Authority effectively assured its financial security by signing its contract with AT&T in March 2017 after completing a procurement process. 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—paid in phases, as AT&T meets network-deployment benchmarks—in funds generated from FCC spectrum auctions several years ago.
In return, AT&T is responsible for building and maintaining the NPSBN 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.
In December 2019, the FirstNet Authority board approved using the first $218 million of this reinvestment money to initiate the FirstNet core upgrade to support 5G services and to purchase additional deployable assets. No specifics were provided about exactly how much funding was allocated to each purpose, but most of the money was directed to the first phase of the 5G upgrade, according to sources.
Although the FirstNet Authority board made its reinvestment decision last December, the task orders to execute these network-enhancement initiatives were no finalized until June of this year. Sources indicate that the new deployable assets could be available for use by FirstNet public-safety subscribers during the first half of 2021, but the FirstNet Authority has not announced what type of deployable technology is being purchased.