FCC to Finalize FirstNet Order Before State Plans Ready

May 17, 2017–The FCC plans to finalize its rules for conducting interoperability reviews of any alternative plans from states “well ahead” of when the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) delivers state plans, David Furth, deputy chief of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, reiterated today.

FirstNet plans to deliver state plans to governors by the end of September. “We’re very conscious of that timeline in terms of putting our rules in place, consistent with that timeline and well ahead of when FirstNet delivers those final plans to the states,” Mr. Furth said during a session this afternoon at the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International’s Public Safety Broadband Summit.

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 network partner, AT&T, Inc., 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 the National Telecommunications and Information Administration 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.

At today’s session, Mr. Furth was also asked about the timing of the recirculation of a draft 4.9 gigahertz band further notice of proposed rulemaking. The item was circulated last November during the tenure of former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler (TR Daily, Nov. 10, 2016). But it was pulled along with a number of other items after FCC Chairman Ajit Pai took over the agency (TR Daily, Jan. 30).

In March, Mr. Furth said the item would be recirculated in the near future (TR Daily, March 31). Today, he said he didn’t have any timing on the item but that it and the FirstNet order “are very high on our priority list.”

During his remarks, Mr. Furth also noted that the wireless industry continues to implement the FCC’s indoor 911 location-accuracy order, noting that certifications are due next month that carriers met the first benchmark last month. “We certainly hope and expect that they have,” he said. He also noted the implementation of text-to-911 and real-time text regulations. And he said that while there has been no announcement on what the newly rechartered Communications Security, Reliability and Interoperability Council will work on, 911 issues “will be on CSRIC’s plate in one form or another.”

John Branscome, senior Democratic counsel for the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, noted that his boss, Sen. Bill Nelson (D., Fla.), the panel’s ranking member, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.) in February released a draft version of the Next Generation 9-1-1 Act of 2017 (TR Daily, Feb. 28), which he said “really hopes to make NG-911 a national priority.”

He noted that Mr. Nelson said when the draft was released that he hopes it will be introduced this spring. “So we’re hoping to do that soon,” said Mr. Branscome.

He said the sponsors are still getting input on the bill from stakeholders. Asked whether Republicans were expected to support the measure, he noted that there is no reason they shouldn’t. He noted that public safety backing for FirstNet legislation helped build bipartisan support on Capitol Hill. The same thing can happen with the NG-911 bill, he said. Mr. Branscome also said that Senate Democrats are hoping to work with the Trump administration to ensure that NG-911 funding is in any infrastructure package.

He also said he doesn’t know when the MOBILE NOW Act, which cleared the Senate Commerce Committee in January (TR Daily, Jan. 24) but is awaiting floor action, might be considered by the full Senate.

Another speaker, Dorothy Spears-Dean, public safety communications coordinator at the Virginia Information Technologies Agency and manager of the state’s 911 program, discussed Virginia’s efforts to deploy NG-911. She said deployment will come first in northern Virginia beginning later this year, followed by other areas of the state, and is scheduled to be completed in 2021. She said other areas will borrow from northern Virginia’s procurement process.

She said that $69 million is needed to cover the statewide NG-911 capital expenditures for items that are not covered by other funding sources. “We’re planning on borrowing against the state treasury to better manage cash flow,” she said. Ms. Spears-Dean also stressed the importance of a strong 911 governance structure, saying that Virginia has both a 911 Services Board with broad representation and a Regional Advisory Council.

“You need to have that strong governance foundation in order to make interoperability seamless,” she said. She also emphasized the importance of local, state, and even federal cost-sharing for NG-911. “Everybody has to have skin in the game for this to be successful,” she said.

She added that an “integrated governance structure and strong statewide coordination” in her state has helped get buy-in for such cost sharing. —Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

Courtesy TRDaily