WASHINGTON – The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) announced today that it has approved an agreement with the state of New Mexico allowing it to lease access to FirstNet’s spectrum. This is the second such agreement between FirstNet and one of the seven public safety Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) grantees, whose funding was partially suspended following enactment of the law creating FirstNet.
The agreement between FirstNet and New Mexico is the first step in the process towards lifting the project’s partial suspension. New Mexico must submit a request to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to lift the suspension, and FirstNet will then submit a letter in support of that action. NTIA will make a recommendation to the grants office on whether to lift the funding suspension.
“I’m very pleased that we were able to reach a spectrum lease agreement with New Mexico, and I’m happy to report that NTIA has announced that the partial suspension of the Los Angeles area public safety project, known as LA SafetyNet, is now lifted,” said FirstNet Board Chairman Sam Ginn. FirstNet in June reached a spectrum lease agreement with the Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications System Authority (LA-RICS) project, and NTIA upon review determined that the project funding should be reinstated, allowing the project to proceed. “These projects will provide FirstNet with a prime opportunity to gather key information and share lessons learned with other projects and public safety.”
LA-RICS Executive Director Pat Mallon and Battalion Chief John Lenihan of the Los Angeles County Fire Department appeared before the FirstNet Board today and outlined the project’s plans for its public safety broadband network. Key information FirstNet intends to learn from this project include how best to utilize secondary responders in the deployment and operation of its network, and how to prioritize access to the network depending on the nature of the incident. A plan detailing this is due to FirstNet on Oct. 1, 2013.
If New Mexico’s project funding is lifted, the key issues FirstNet intends to learn from the project include: use of a network core located remotely; spectrum management and network use issues along the U.S.-Mexico border; and shared use of a state network with a large number of Federal users.
The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 (Tax Relief Act), signed into law in February 2012, created FirstNet, an independent entity within NTIA. The law directs FirstNet to develop and operate a nationwide public safety broadband network, which is to be based on a single, nationwide network architecture, and directed that FirstNet hold the single license for the public safety broadband spectrum in the 700 MHz band. The new law dramatically changed the assumptions on which NTIA awarded the seven public safety BTOP projects in 2010.
In the wake of the Tax Relief Act, in May 2012 NTIA partially suspended the seven projects to ensure that BTOP grants funds would be prudently invested. During the suspension, FirstNet has had the opportunity to review the projects to make sure they would support FirstNet’s development of the nationwide network.
The Board voted today to extend negotiations with the Executive Office of the State of Mississippi and Motorola Solutions, Inc. (the Bay Area Regional Interoperable Communications Systems Authority (BayRICS) )to Sept. 30, 2013. These projects have made substantial progress in reaching agreements with FirstNet, and FirstNet remains hopeful that agreements can be finalized with those projects by the deadline.
In February, FirstNet began negotiating with the seven public safety BTOP projects on spectrum lease agreements. FirstNet began the negotiations under the premise that each project featured special characteristics that FirstNet potentially could leverage as it builds and operates a nationwide public safety broadband network that meets the needs of first responders. These included things like how a project would address rural or wide-area deployments, in-building coverage issues, development of public safety applications, billing and provisioning.
The negotiations included numerous group discussions on common issues and concerns and standard lease terms and conditions. There also were numerous one-on-one negotiating sessions with each BTOP project to address considerations specific to the projects and their respective conditions.
After six months of intensive negotiations, Board member Sue Swenson, who led the talks on behalf of FirstNet, reported today to the Board that discussions had concluded and agreements could not be reached with three of those jurisdictions. Those three projects are: Adams County Communications Center, Inc. in Adams County, Colo.; the City of Charlotte, N.C.; and the New Jersey Department of the Treasury.
“Each of these projects presented unique and complex circumstances, but we left no stone unturned in our efforts to reach agreements with each project,” said Swenson. “While we were hopeful these talks would conclude successfully, in the end we couldn’t finalize agreements that made sense given FirstNet’s task of designing, deploying and operating a nationwide, interoperable public safety broadband network. We are disappointed but appreciate the hard work from all of the jurisdictions and look forward to working with them and all states toward their successful participation in the nationwide network.”
Because the end date for the public safety BTOP projects is September 30, 2013, time has run out to settle outstanding issues with the remaining three grantees. Under the grant rules, the projects now have two options: 1) submit an extension request, detailing how the project will proceed without a LTE component and include a revised project plan that incorporates broadband communications for public safety; or 2) initiate the closeout process for the grant, which will begin on October 1, 2013.
FirstNet’s discussions with the State of Texas for a spectrum lease agreement began in April and are still ongoing.
FirstNet will provide emergency responders with the first high-speed, nationwide network dedicated to public safety. FirstNet is designed to improve communication among local, state, regional, tribal and national emergency services personnel. The broadband data network will help save lives and protect the health and safety of all Americans. It will be built using LTE, the most advanced wireless technology available today. FirstNet fulfills a fundamental need of the public safety community for a single, mission-critical communications system enabling force multiplier effectiveness. Overseen by representatives of public safety, government and the wireless industry, FirstNet is an independent entity within the U.S. Department of Commerce, National Telecommunications and Information Administration (www.firstnet.gov ).