TRDaily: FirstNet Spectrum Lease Agreement Nearing for Harris County, TX

The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) and the state of Texas are nearing a spectrum lease agreement for Harris County, which is deploying a public safety broadband system, a state official said today.

“We’re very close to reaching an agreement,” Todd Early, deputy assistant director of the Public Safety Communications Service within the Law Enforcement Support Division of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said this afternoon during a FirstNet webinar organized by IWCE’s “Urgent Communications.”

The state of Texas and FirstNet have been discussing a spectrum lease agreement since April 2013, and the state has received four grants of special temporary authority (STA) from the FCC related to the operation of the Harris County network, with the current STA scheduled to expire late next month.

If it secures a spectrum lease agreement, it would be the only such lease recipient that is not a BTOP (Broadband Technology Opportunities Program) grant awardee.

FirstNet and Texas have established an excellent working relationship on this issue, said FirstNet spokesman Ryan Oremland.  “We are encouraged by the productive dialogue that we have been having with the State and are working hard toward reaching an agreement,” he told TRDaily today.

During today’s webinar, public safety experts discussed several hot topics concerning the deployment of the nationwide public safety broadband network, including FirstNet’s issuance of a comprehensive network request for proposal (RFP), the cost to public safety agencies of using the network, priority access, rural coverage, and the difficulty of consulting with thousands of public safety agencies and other stakeholders.

Amanda Hilliard, FirstNet’s outreach director, said that FirstNet plans to issue a draft comprehensive network RFP early next year.“Everybody wants to know … what is this going to cost in the end” to use the network? said Maj. Scott Neal, director of the Bureau of Communications and Information Services in the Pennsylvania State Police.  He said the price must be attractive to agencies, both that currently subscribe to commercial services and those that don’t.

Mr. Early said another key issue is managing priority access, including among public safety disciplines. He said that will have to be addressed.  He also said that “rural coverage is a very big concern,” a point echoed by others on the webinar. Mr. Early said that “real-live metrics” from early builders will be necessary to produce models on how rural coverage can be achieved.

Bill Malone, who retired this month as executive director of the Adams County, Colo., Communications Center (ADCOM 911), said first responders in rural areas are “a little skeptical” that the FirstNet system will meet their needs.- Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com