NTIA Publishes State Opt-Out Guidelines: This week NTIA released a document that will have a significant impact on states considering opting out. The NTIA’s document, for which comments are due by August 19, 2016, is entitled, “State Alternative Plan Program (SAPP) and the First Responder Network Authority Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network.” The full document can be found at https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2016-07-19/pdf/2016-17034.pdf
Note: A state that opts out of the FirstNet build plan needs to provide its own Radio Access Network or RAN. That is, the cell sites that will connect to the FirstNet backend or Evolved Packet Core (EPC), which is the brains of the network. I plan to file comments and I suggest any state even considering opting out at least read this document very closely. If comments are appropriate, that state should file before the deadline. I would never suggest to any state that it opt out, rather my thought is to work with FirstNet and the partner and accept the coverage being offered, perhaps with some suggested modifications. Also, make sure your state has the right to negotiate with the partner so after building the RAN in the state there will be ways to expand coverage of the network.
This could be accomplished in several ways. One would be for the FirstNet partner to agree to add the coverage because it would also give the partner better access to the spectrum on a secondary basis (more capacity). The next way would be for the city, county, or state to pay for an additional RAN and have it installed by the FirstNet partner or a qualified, pre-approved vendor. There are a number of combinations of these two that might make some sense, but I would opt for gaining the best coverage possible from FirstNet and then moving forward. Back to the Document from the NTIA My first issue is not with the NTIA document but rather with the law that spells out that the opt-out process must include several steps. According to the NTIA document, the law states, “First, a state must submit its alternative plan for the construction, maintenance, operation and improvements of its RAN to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and meet specific interoperability criteria established by the FCC.”
The FCC is then required to review the state’s plan for RAN deployment within that state and either agree or disagree based on a document that was created by the FCC and its task force several years ago. (Technical Rules for Public Safety Spectrum, https://apps.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/FCC-12-68A1.pdf) In reality, FirstNet and the partner’s current plans may or may not include all of the items covered in the FCC document, but the FCC is to approve or not approve the plan based on its criteria and not the criteria of the current partner and FirstNet engineers. I see many problems with this. First, the FCC has, by law, had to have been hands-off in any planning or system design. Two, the FCC may decide to turn each state’s request into a long, drawn-out affair including public comment periods and other time-consuming investigations that could materially impact the network timeline. If the FCC does not approve the state plan, FirstNet has a green light to build the network in that state. There has to be a better way to make sure the FCC is satisfied with the opt-out plan. Continue reading