DENVER – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) hopes a notice of funding opportunity will be released next month for version 2.0 of the State and Local Implementation Grant Program (SLIGP). During a session this afternoon at the APCO 2017 here, Marsha MacBride, NTIA’s associate administrator-Office of Public Safety Communications, said that the funds will come from money returned by states from the first version of the program.
The 2.0 funds can be used for planning by states after they make decisions on whether to opt in or opt out of the FirstNet system, Ms. MacBride said. The current grant program expires in February, so NTIA wants to have the new program up in March, she said. The new funds can be spent between March 1, 2018, and Feb. 29, 2020. NTIA is getting Commerce approval for the grant guidance.
During the session, Carolynn Dunn, director of the State Alternative Plan Program (SAPP) at NTIA, stressed the threshold that states must meet if they want to deploy their own radio access network (RAN) and opt out of having AT&T, Inc., the First Responder Network Authority’s (FirstNet) network partner, build it.
“We’re not trying to do gotchas here,” Ms. Dunn said, but she also went through a myriad of things that states must show to deploy an alternative plan. NTIA last year issued a public notice providing preliminary guidance on how the agency plans to review proposed alternative plans from states (TR Daily, 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 [national public safety broadband network]; (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.”
If the FCC approves an alternative 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.
Ms. MacBride said NTIA’s timeline has slipped for releasing final guidance on the submission of alternative state plans, but that it hopes to issue it soon.
Also at today’s session, Dave Buchanan, FirstNet’s director-consultation, noted that FirstNet and AT&T have had numerous meetings with states since initial state plans were delivered in June (TR Daily, June 19), adding that it enabled them to “eliminate some of the gray areas” that states may have had with their plans. He noted that a lot of comments from states during meetings and in written submissions have addressed issues such as coverage, cost, deployable equipment, and local control.
He said consultation with states continues in an effort to enable them to make their decision “as easy as possible.” He cited comments that states that have decided opt in have made on the reasons for their decisions. For example, a Virginia official said that the deployment of the radio access network will not cost the state anything, Mr. Buchanan noted.
Mr. Buchanan also pointed out that states that opt in will get access to the broadband technologies more quickly than those that don’t. And he pointed out that FirstNet has established a Chief Customer Office as it pivots to the post-contract award environment. He said FirstNet will continue to consult with public safety, including on use cases, and advocate for enhancements, upgrades, and improvements. Those activities will be “an important differentiator” of FirstNet, he said. —Paul Kirby, firstname.lastname@example.org