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O N L I N E  E X C L U S I V E

FirstNet Begins Process to Allow BTOP Recipients to Move Forward

February 12, 2013

The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) passed a resolution to allow the board to negotiate agreements with the seven entities that won Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) grant money to lease spectrum from FirstNet. However, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) still must lift the fund suspensions and approve the projects to move forward.
 
Sue Swenson, FirstNet board member, said the board members will have 90 days to negotiate with each of the BTOP awardees, although that timeframe can be extended if necessary. “FirstNet has made a preliminary determination that each BTOP recipient could provide substantial benefits to the nationwide network and provide lessons learned,” Swenson said during the third FirstNet board meeting Feb. 12. “NTIA is the final authority to lift the suspension,” she said.
 
Seven jurisdictions — Adams County, Colo.; Charlotte, N.C.; Los Angeles Regional Interoperability Communications Systems (LA-RICS) authority; the state of Mississippi; Motorola Solutions for California’s Bay Area Urban Areas Securities Initiative (UASI); the state of New Jersey; and the state of New Mexico — won a combined $380 million in public-safety broadband grants in 2010 from NTIA. In May 2012, NTIA suspended the grants while FirstNet organized itself to design and build a single interoperable network as directed by Congress.
 
Swenson, who leads FirstNet’s BTOP working group, said the process will move forward in two phases. The first is a 90-day period for negotiations to seek agreements with each of the BTOP grantees on common terms. If a negotiation with a grantee concludes successfully within that 90-day window, and the board approves the agreement, FirstNet then would execute a spectrum lease with the grantee. In addition, FirstNet would send a letter to NTIA, which administers the BTOP program, supporting that grantee’s request to lift the partial suspension of its funding. NTIA has the final decision of whether lifting a grant suspension is a prudent use of taxpayer funds.
 
The FirstNet board will negotiate with each recipient using a common set of terms and conditions. However, each project will include its special characteristics, such as rural or wide-area deployments, in-building coverage, public-safety applications, or billing and provisioning, as examples, Swenson said.
 
Several board members visited each of the BTOP recipient sites during recent weeks. All the BTOP recipients have asked to move forward with their public-safety broadband projects, which were all in varying stages of buildout when the partial suspension occurred. Each project must have sufficient funding and fulfill the necessary milestones to continue, Swenson said. She said the board wants to ensure the deployments are consistent and use the Public Safety Advisory Council (PSAC) as a resource.
 
Larry Strickling, NTIA assistant secretary of commerce for communications and information, said NTIA is pleased that the resolution charts a path to allow the resumption of the BTOP projects under the two conditions set out when NTIA partially suspended the projects last year:
 
• The grant money will remain in the communities that received the grant.
• The grant dollars will be spent on facilities and equipment that can be incorporated into FirstNet’s nationwide network or that will yield valuable data and information to guide FirstNet.
 
The BTOP resolution was one of four passed by the FirstNet board at its third meeting since the members were announced last August. Another resolution approved a report to Congress that the entity is obligated to distribute to lawmakers. The board also passed a resolution giving the board temporary hiring authority to hire term and permanent employees to staff the organization.
 
The final resolution gave the board unanimous written consent to take actions between board members. Every board member would have to approve such actions, the authority will be used in limited instances, and final resolutions will be posted for the public to see, board members said.
 
Another large piece of the meeting was dedicated to how the board plans to begin its outreach phase with state and local public-safety officials. Board member Jeff Johnson gave a presentation overviewing the board’s outreach objectives. The presentation is available here.
 
Last week, NTIA announced that applications for $121.5 million in grants to assist states as they prepare for a nationwide public-safety broadband network are due March 19. That money is designated for states and territories to communicate their needs to FirstNet.
 
“We’ve already begun our outreach to these stakeholders, but we’re just getting started,” Johnson said. “Please be patient because there’s much more to come. Over the next few months we’ll be ramping up our efforts, embarking on a listening tour to solicit input from all of our stakeholders on how the network is designed, built and utilized.” 
 
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