Charlotte Outlines Reasons FirstNet Lease Halted, New Broadband Plan
By Michelle Zilis, Managing Editor
Wednesday, August 06, 2014 | Comments

The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) announced in late 2013 that it was unable to reach a spectrum lease agreement with the city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, and negotiations had ended.

“No specific reason was given for this decision, but early in this process, the city and FirstNet agreed that if Charlotte believed it would be unable to successfully complete its proposed public-safety broadband project associated with its BTOP grant, it would not enter into a lease agreement with FirstNet,” said Jeff Stovall, Charlotte’s chief information officer (CIO).

Stovall said staff believed sustainability issues led to FirstNet’s decision. The city received a National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Broadband Technologies Opportunity Program (BTOP) grant in 2010 to build a public-safety broadband network. The grant consisted of $16.7 million in federal funds and $4.4 million in “in kind services” from the city. In October 2011, the city selected Alcatel-Lucent to provide its Long Term Evolution (LTE) public-safety network, and the system was slated to be completed in July 2013.

“In May of 2012, NTIA suspended BTOP funds for cellular equipment in the seven jurisdictions that deploy public-safety broadband networks, including Charlotte,” Stovall said. “This was done to ensure development within these jurisdictions would be consistent with the FirstNet national network design. A prerequisite for having funding restored was the completion of a spectrum management lease agreement with FirstNet.” 

However, when negotiations with FirstNet began after the 15-month NTIA suspension, much had changed for cellular-related equipment, he said. Changes that affected the city’s plan included:

• State building codes had increased standards for communications tower construction and modification, which significantly increased the project cost.

• Commercial cellular providers decreased rates for services, which greatly changed the sustainability of the city’s business model.

• Officials had a better understanding of the costs of required network devices, which can be 150 percent more than commercially available devices.

“These changes in the technology environment and the limited physical scope of the Charlotte project (Mecklenburg County) would create funding shortfalls in both the deployment and operations phases of the project,” Stovall said. “The city of Charlotte worked with FirstNet, the state of North Carolina and its partners in the LTE project, Alcatel-Lucent and Crown Castle, to develop a successful ‘go forward’ strategy to overcome these challenges. While staff believed the team was successful in developing a set of strategies to overcome the deployment challenges, the city was unable to overcome the sustainable operations issues.

“After careful consideration of the benefits and risks associated with the Charlotte Public Safety Broadband Project, FirstNet decided to not pursue a lease agreement with the city.”

Four of the seven BTOP jurisdictions — the Los Angeles-Regional Interoperable Communications System (LA-RICS), the state of New Mexico, New Jersey Department of Treasury and Adams County, Colorado — reached lease agreements with FirstNet. The two other BTOP jurisdictions — the state of Mississippi and Motorola Solutions for the Bay Area in California — didn’t reach agreements. And FirstNet is still negotiating with Harris County, Texas, which has an operational LTE public-safety network funded through federal grants, but is not a BTOP awardee.

Charlotte’s New Plan

On Jan. 13, 2014, the Charlotte City Council approved an agreement to restructure the remaining $8,831,560 BTOP funds to improve the existing public-safety communications technology and infrastructure in the city and county.

The major components of the new plan include user devices including laptops, tablets and in-vehicle modems; core technology infrastructure upgrades; and deployment contract services. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and Charlotte Fire Department will be the primary users of the updates.

“The restructured project’s objectives are to upgrade the city’s infrastructure to take advantage of LTE technologies in the area of video to and from the vehicle and add capabilities of future technologies,” Stovall said. “The equipment being purchased has been specifically selected to ensure that the city is ready to utilize the FirstNet public-safety network when it is deployed to the Charlotte area.”

The in-vehicle devices will access the city network via existing cellular commercial broadband networks, but will operate on a dual-band modem to give the devices the ability to join other broadband networks in the future, such as FirstNet, without having to replace the modem, he said.

The restructured grant requires the city to match at least 20 percent of the total proposed project cost, about $2.4 million, and will include in-kind services such as staff time and existing infrastructure, as well as the purchase of user devices.

User devices, which are at the end of their lifecycle, will be replaced with existing fiscal year 2014 and 2015 funds. Deployment efforts are expected to end around June 30, 2015, and the project will close by the end of September 2015, which is the end date of the BTOP grant, Stovall said.

The city project managers are leveraging existing cooperative purchasing agreements and state contracts for project management, deployment contract services and purchases of infrastructure gear and devices, he said. The city has contracted with Disys, CCCi and Telware for deployment and architecture services, and additional contractors may be brought on as specific needs are identified.

The BTOP-funded LTE and microwave equipment that Charlotte purchased before the NTIA freeze was donated to FirstNet, and the city plans to work with the state on a FirstNet deployment in the Charlotte area when the state is ready.



 
 
Post a comment
Name: *
Email: *
Title: *
Comment: *
 

Comments

No Comments Submitted Yet

Be the first by using the form above to submit a comment!

Site Navigation

Close