March 29, 2017–LAS VEGAS – Officials today emphasized that states hoping to build their own radio access networks (RANs) rather than having the First Responder Network Authority’s (FirstNet) partner do so will face hurdles in getting authorization from the federal government. At a session at the IWCE show here, representatives from FirstNet, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and the FCC detailed the steps that states must take to pursue alternative FirstNet plans, and the FirstNet and NTIA officials repeatedly said getting the plans blessed won’t be easy.
Under the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, which established FirstNet, governors have 90 days after receiving the FirstNet state plan to notify the government that they want to opt out of having FirstNet’s partner build a radio access network in their states. Within 180 days after that, states must complete a request for proposals (RFP) and submit an alternative plan for approval by the FCC, which is charged with reviewing whether plans would comply with minimum technical interoperability requirements. If the FCC approves a state plan, the state has to apply to NTIA for authority to secure a spectrum capacity lease agreement with FirstNet. States seeking to build their own RANs may also apply to NTIA for grant funds to help cover those costs.
During today’s session, officials again and again said it would be difficult for states to show that they would be able to meet the law’s requirements for getting alternative plans approved. “We want to make sure that states, as they make this decision, truly understand what this means, what opt-out means for them, and that they’re going into it with open eyes and they know what they’re getting into,” said Carolyn Dunn, director of NTIA’s State Alternative Plan Program.
She noted that NTIA last summer issued a public notice providing preliminary guidance on how the agency plans to review proposed alternative plans from states (TRDaily, July 19, 2016).
The public notice pointed out that the law requires states whose alternative plans are approved by the FCC to “make five separate technical and financial demonstrations to NTIA. The state must demonstrate: (1) That it has the technical capabilities to operate and the funding to support its RAN; (2) that it has the ability to maintain ongoing interoperability with the NPSBN; (3) that it has the ability to complete the project within specified comparable timelines specific to the state; (4) the cost-effectiveness of the state alternative plan submitted to the FCC; and, (5) comparable security, coverage, and quality of service to that of the NPSBN.”
Officials today pointed out that states must ensure they are able to meet these requirements for the 25-year length of the FirstNet contract. “Everything has to be in lock-step” with the FirstNet network, Ms. Dunn said. “Providing this service level will require significant and ongoing coordination with FirstNet. … It’s not a small thing, and we want everyone to understand what this means so that there’s no surprises.”
Audience members asked a myriad of questions, including concerning service adoption, technical requirements, the opt-out process, the evaluation of cost-effectiveness of alternative plan, and spectrum lease agreements.
Some asked whether there are any provisions if a governor decides to opt out but then changes his or her mind, or a successor wants to opt in. “It’s a long-term commitment that the state will be signing up for so they need to be prepared to make that commitment,” replied Brian Hobson, FirstNet’s director-state plans.
Also during the session, David Buchanan, FirstNet’s director-consultation, and Mr. Hobson said FirstNet plans to hold webinars in the upcoming days for state single point of contacts (SPOCs) and FirstNet’s Public Safety Advisory Committee on the contract to be announced tomorrow.
Draft state plans will be delivered this summer, with final plans set for release in the fall, Mr. Buchanan said. He said an in-person meeting will be held with SPOCs in the summer, and that almost at the same time draft state plans will be released. States will then have an opportunity to submit comments on the draft plans. FirstNet will then review the comments, and final plans will be delivered. The officials said more details on the timing of the draft plans are expected in the next couple of weeks.
Mr. Hobson said the state plans will include information on FirstNet, consultation and outreach, coverage, network operations, product and services, and details related to a governor’s decision.
David Furth, deputy chief of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, said his agency plans to finalize its rules for conducting interoperability reviews of alternative plans from states “well before” FirstNet plans to deliver final state plans. – Paul Kirby, email@example.com