FirstNet: FCC Has No Authority over Network Policies

The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) has stressed to the FCC that the Commission has no “oversight authority over FirstNet’s network policies.” In an ex parte filing in PS docket 16-269 reporting on meetings with FCC officials, FirstNet said that the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act, which established FirstNet, “is clear that FirstNet, and solely FirstNet, has the authority to establish network policies for the NPSBN, including policies related to the technical and operational requirements of the network.   Any attempt by the Commission to seek comment on, and thus potentially alter, FirstNet’s network policies would constitute significant overreach by the FCC and would undermine Chairman [Ajit] Pai’s approach to ensuring that the Commission does not exceed the authority granted to it by Congress.  FirstNet has spent years consulting – and continues to consult through, for example, the upcoming State Plan review period – with all 56 states and territories and the Public Safety Advisory Committee in order to obtain feedback, guidance, information, recommendations, and subject matter expertise from a public safety perspective to ensure that user needs, requirements, and public safety operational capabilities are included in the network.

“It is highly inappropriate for the FCC to unilaterally decide to [undo] this work by seeking comment on FirstNet’s network policies,” FirstNet added. “Indeed, Congress made clear that its intent was for only one entity, FirstNet, to be held solely accountable to public safety for establishing the NPSBN’s network policies.  Any suggestion that the FCC was tasked with overseeing FirstNet’s establishment of network policies is entirely inconsistent with the Act and could jeopardize Congress’s vision for the deployment of a nationwide interoperable public safety broadband network.”

FirstNet said it discussed its concerns with a draft order to be considered at tomorrow’s FCC meeting “instructing the Bureau to issue a Public Notice that seeks comment on FirstNet’s network policies and then having the Commission issue an order identifying those elements of FirstNet’s network policies that the Commission will consider as part of its interoperability review of an alternative plan. We reiterated that the Act is clear that FirstNet, and solely FirstNet, has the authority to establish network policies for the NPSBN, including policies related to the technical and operational requirements of the network.  We noted that the Draft Order does not cite to any statutory authority for its decision to seek comment on FirstNet’s network policies.

“Rather, the Draft Order appears to be responding to a commenter’s argument suggesting that the Commission is relinquishing its rulemaking authority under the Administrative Procedure Act (‘APA’) to FirstNet,” the filing added. “This logic is flawed in that it assumes the Act tasks the Commission, rather than FirstNet, with the responsibility to establish network policies for the NPSBN.  However, as previously noted, FirstNet is the only entity statutorily responsible for both ensuring the establishment of the [NPSBN] and the network policies that govern the technical and operational requirements of the network.   Thus, FirstNet, not the FCC, would be the entity subject to any APA requirements related to establishing network policies.  Congress, however, expressly exempted FirstNet from the procedural requirements of the APA, and thus FirstNet is not required to seek public comment on its network policies.”

Meanwhile, in a separate ex parte filing, FirstNet submitted a modified interoperability compliance matrix after reviewing the draft order, in which the FCC will establish procedures for reviewing alternative plans filed by states that want to “opt out” and contract to build their own radio access networks (RANs) rather than have FirstNet’s partner, AT&T, Inc., build them.

FirstNet said it removed from its interoperability compliance matrix 20 provisions for the purposes of the FCC’s interoperability evaluation of state alternative plans. Those provisions fall under the categories of 3PP standards, interfaces, and guidelines; user equipment and device management; testing criteria (devices); handover and mobility (roaming); priority and quality of service (local control); and security (devices).

FirstNet has removed from its matrix provisions that the draft order indicated the FCC would not consider when reviewing alternative plans.

A report by the FCC’s Technical Advisory Board for First Responder Interoperability “included 46 requirements (‘SHALLS’) and 55 considerations (‘SHOULDS’),” FirstNet noted in its filing. “The Draft Order finds that the Commission’s review should be limited to certain SHALLS, specifically requirements (1)-(3), (7)-(10), (20)-(25), (29), (39), and (41)-(42).”

“While FirstNet is removing these requirements from the scope of the FCC’s review, it is important to note that these requirements are anticipated to be included as part of NTIA’s review and/or in FirstNet’s network policies,” FirstNet said in its filing. “Thus, removing these requirements from the interoperability compliance matrix will not reduce the scope of the interoperability requirements necessary for opt-out State integration.  For example, while FirstNet has removed the three additional Prong 2 requirements that were specified in the interoperability compliance matrix, these requirements, as mentioned above, are likely to be included as part of NTIA’s review and/or in FirstNet’s network policies and will accordingly remain necessary for opt-out State integration.”

Meanwhile, Rivada Networks LLC, which led the Rivada Mercury LLC consortium that lost to AT&T in its bid for the FirstNet contract, submitted another ex parte filing replying to recent submissions of AT&T, FirstNet, and the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International.

“These ex partes each read provisions into the Public Safety Spectrum Act (‘Act’) that do not exist in an attempt to constrain the design and operation of state opt-out networks,” Rivada said. “They also advocate for procedural requirements that unnecessarily intrude into state governmental operations, or, in the case of requesting a final, binding, executed contract before FirstNet’s terms will be final, are impractical because the Commission’s interoperability review is only the first step, not the last, in the opt-out process. Moreover, in its June 16 ex parte, FirstNet asserts a right to add interoperability criteria in its own review, which goes far beyond FirstNet’s statutory authorities and would render meaningless the Commission’s role and that of the statutorily-mandated Technical Advisory Board for First Responder Interoperability (‘Technical Advisory Board’).”

Rivada also reiterated its contention “that a state radio access network (‘RAN’) can connect and interoperate with FirstNet’s core either through a direct connection or indirectly via a state core.” —Paul Kirby,

Courtesy  TRDaily