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FirstNet Board Member Sue Swenson Provides Update on Status of BTOP Negotiations

March 28, 2013

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Washington – FirstNet Board member Sue Swenson, the Board’s lead negotiator with the seven Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) public safety projects on 700 MHz spectrum leases, provided an update today on the process and status of the negotiations.   The Board in February adopted a resolution outlining its path forward with the seven public safety BTOP grantees, whose funding was partially suspended following enactment of the law creating FirstNet.

“We’re pleased with the progress we’ve made thus far in our spectrum lease negotiations with the BTOP public safety projects,” said Swenson.  “These jurisdictions and FirstNet’s team have had some very productive discussions on the draft framework for a lease agreement.  After we receive the projects’ written feedback on the current draft, we will be in a position to move forward in earnest with more individualized negotiations.”

Since the Board’s decision in February, Swenson and the BTOP projects have been informally conducting as much of their preliminary negotiations work as possible as a group.  Each of the projects has identified its lead negotiator and the projects have named a coordinator for the group to facilitate exchanges of information. 

“While the Board has discussed a common set of terms and conditions it wants to see embodied in each agreement, there are likely to be differences in some terms in the final lease agreements given the fact that the projects are at different stages of maturity,” Swenson said. “In addition, the Board has allowed us the flexibility to capture any special project characteristics in an agreement.”  Such special conditions might include how a project will address rural or wide area deployments, in-building coverage issues, development of public safety applications, billing and provisioning, or other specific project features that FirstNet could leverage to generate valuable lessons learned to help it develop and implement its plan for the nationwide network’s deployment, she said.

The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, signed into law in February 2012, created the First Responder Network Authority, or FirstNet, an independent entity within the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). The law charges FirstNet with developing and operating 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. That new law dramatically changed the assumptions on which NTIA awarded the seven public safety BTOP projects in 2010.

To ensure that BTOP grant funds are prudently invested, in May 2012 NTIA partially suspended the seven projects so that they would proceed in a manner that supports the development of the nationwide network.   The seven projects are: the Adams County (Colorado) Communications Center, the City of Charlotte (North Carolina), the Executive Office of the State of Mississippi, the Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications System Authority, Motorola Solutions, Inc. (San Francisco Bay area), the New Jersey Department of the Treasury, and the New Mexico Department of Information Technology.  While the Board’s resolution applies only to its negotiations with these BTOP projects, a representative of a similar project in Texas, funded with grants awarded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, has been participating in the group’s discussions as an “observer,” given the likelihood that FirstNet and Texas will commence negotiations on a spectrum lease in the near future.  The Texas project has been operating under Special Temporary Authority granted last year and recently extended by the Federal Communications Commission, and FirstNet would seek to establish specific terms and conditions in any spectrum lease it considers with Texas.

Under the spectrum lease process envisioned by the Board, if negotiations with a BTOP grantee conclude successfully within the 90-day window, and the Board approves the agreement, FirstNet then would execute a spectrum lease with the grantee. In addition, FirstNet would provide a recommendation to NTIA, which administers the BTOP program, in support of that grantee’s request to lift the partial suspension of its funding. As administrator of the BTOP program, NTIA will have the final decision on whether lifting a grant suspension is a prudent use of taxpayer funds.