WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) today issued a final rule regarding its review of fees that the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) may assess to help fund operations. The final rule makes clear that NTIA will ensure that the fees FirstNet assesses are sufficient to cover its expenses but do not exceed what is needed to carry out its duties.
The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 (Act) established FirstNet as an independent authority within NTIA and directed it to develop and deploy a nationwide public safety broadband network (NPSBN). The Act requires FirstNet to be self-sustainable and authorized FirstNet to collect fees to help fund its operations. Under the Act, NTIA must review FirstNet's fees on an annual basis, and the fees may only be assessed if approved by NTIA.
NTIA's fee-review process is part of the broader framework spelled out in the Act for oversight of FirstNet's finances and operations. The final rule describes NTIA’s overarching scope, boundaries, and guidelines for its FirstNet fee review and approval process. The specific fees that NTIA will review are: covered leasing agreement fees, network user fees (including fees for use of NPSBN core elements), and fees from entities seeking access to FirstNet-owned network equipment or infrastructure. The first set of fees submitted for review under this process will likely be the partnership fees FirstNet would seek to collect from AT&T, its commercial partner.
“NTIA’s fee-review program will ensure that FirstNet achieves self-sustainability through a reasonable fee structure,” said Leonard Bechtel, NTIA’s Director of Administration and Chief Financial Officer.
NTIA published a proposed rule related to FirstNet’s fees in December 2015. In response to comments NTIA received, some changes were made to the proposed rule, such as the addition of a timeline for NTIA’s fee-review process, as well as contingency provisions in the event NTIA does not approve FirstNet’s proposed fees.
NTIA, part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, is the Executive Branch agency that advises the President on telecommunications and information policy issues. NTIA’s programs and policy making focus largely on expanding broadband Internet access and adoption in America, expanding the use of spectrum by all users, and ensuring that the Internet remains an engine for innovation and economic growth.