FirstNet Board Approves $6.6B Budget, FCC Sets Deadline for Incumbents to Relocate
By Sandra Wendelken
Friday, August 26, 2016 | Comments
The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) board approved a $6.585 billion fiscal year (FY) 2017 budget package in anticipation of a November contract award for a nationwide public-safety broadband network. Separately, the FCC released an order addressing FirstNet buildout requirements and requesting comment on procedures for opt-out states.

The FY 2017 budget, approved Aug. 26 during a special teleconference meeting, includes $6.5 billion for the winner of FirstNet’s request for proposals (RFP) for the nationwide network and $85 million for FirstNet operations. FirstNet CEO Mike Poth said the evaluation team is on track to award the contract around Nov. 1. The budget also covers delivery of 56 individual state plans and public-safety adoption of the network, Poth said.

The $6.585 billion budget is a large but expected leap from FirstNet’s FY 2016 budget of $126 million in obligations. FirstNet Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Kim Farrington said FirstNet has spent $65 million through the end of July and anticipates using $108 million or 86 percent of the FY 2016 budget by Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.

“This mission-driven budget reflects our goals for the organization, for the network and for public safety,” said FirstNet Chair Sue Swenson. “It will drive the achievement of major milestones along our strategic road map in what will be a pivotal year for FirstNet, including critical post-award priorities such as state plans and continued outreach to public safety.”

The approved budget will ensure that up to $6.5 billion will be obligated toward the contract and associated task orders, once awarded. FirstNet intends to pay that amount over the course of the contract as the partner achieves committed network deployment and operational milestones. The $85 million in operations obligations covers corporate services, public safety and network operations work streams.

FirstNet’s budget presentation is here.

For its part, the FCC Aug. 26 declined to impose specific buildout requirements on FirstNet as a condition of license renewal. The commission said the buildout obligations and specifications of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, coupled with the specifications of FirstNet’s RFP, provide adequate milestones to ensure rural coverage while also providing both FirstNet and the states flexibility to plan for optimal network coverage.

“We will continue to monitor FirstNet’s buildout progress against these milestones, and expect that existing reporting obligations will be sufficient to allow the commission to carry out its license renewal responsibilities,” the report and order said.

“A nationwide network necessarily includes coverage of rural areas,” said FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai in a statement. “Although this order does not adopt a specific rule that requires FirstNet to meet rural deployment benchmarks, I’m satisfied that we have made substantial progress in this regard. The order makes clear that FirstNet has a statutory duty to ensure substantial rural coverage. It recognizes that FirstNet has incorporated rural coverage benchmarks into its procurement process. And it specifically states that the FCC will monitor deployment in rural areas in order to ensure that FirstNet has met its legal obligations.”

Also in the order, the FCC set a deadline of Aug. 31, 2017, for the public-safety narrowband incumbents to vacate FirstNet’s spectrum. FirstNet awarded eight 700 MHz relocation grants totaling nearly $27 million earlier this month. FirstNet has $40 million total set aside for the Band 14 Incumbent Spectrum Relocation Grant Program

“This will provide a 12-month transition period for incumbents, consistent with the 12-month period afforded to those incumbents that have received grant funding from FirstNet,” the FCC said. “However, we will not permit continued operation by those incumbents that have either previously discontinued operations or that are no longer in operation after the effective date of this report and order.”

In the notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM), the commission is seeking comment on proposed procedures for administering the state opt-out process under the act, as well as FCC obligations to evaluate state opt-out applications.

Comments are due 30 days after publication in the Federal Register, and reply comments are due 60 days after publication.

The full order and NPRM are here.

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