NTIA Officials Detail FirstNet Opt-Out Timeline
Thursday, August 18, 2016 | Comments

Officials with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) Office of Public Safety Communications (OPSC) detailed a potential timeline for states that choose to opt out of the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet).

“This is our best thinking now,” State Alternative Plan Program (SAPP) Director Carolyn Dunn said during a session at the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) International conference in Orlando, Florida. “This is an evolving process, but we want to be transparent.”

The opt-out timeline begins with FirstNet’s delivery of state plans. At that point, each state’s governor will have up to 90 days to decide whether to participate in FirstNet’s contract to build the nationwide broadband network. If a state chooses not to participate in the FirstNet contract, it will be responsible for building and maintaining its own radio access network (RAN) that will tie into the FirstNet core.

Any state that chooses to opt out will then have 180 days to put out a request for proposals (RFP) and submit a plan to the FCC for review. The FCC review will primarily determine if the plan meets the technical requirements needed for interoperability between the state RAN and the FirstNet network.

Under the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, if the FCC does not approve a state’s alternative plan, the state would then participate in FirstNet following the state plan submitted by FirstNet, Dunn said.

The FCC is working on rules for states that choose to build their own RAN, and there has been discussion about allowing states whose plans are rejected to amend and resubmit their plans, NTIA OPSC Acting Associate Administrator Marsha MacBride said in response to a question.

The FCC’s notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) for states that opt out is expected sometime around the release of the state plans.

If the FCC approves a state plan, that state will then apply to the NTIA for the right to execute a spectrum lease and for optional grant funding to build its network.

“You must apply for a spectrum lease; you may apply for a grant,” MacBride said.

States choosing to opt out can begin negotiating a spectrum lease with FirstNet prior to receiving the NTIA’s approval, MacBride said. “We fully expect that some states will already have a draft agreement by the time they come to us,” she said. “Our (role) is really, ‘Can you sign the paper with FirstNet?’ ”

After receiving FCC approval to move forward, a state will have about 60 days to submit the application for the spectrum lease and potential funding.

The NTIA will release the application before FirstNet releases its state plans. That will allow states to know what the application looks like and what the criteria are while making the decision of whether to participate in FirstNet, Dunn said.

The NTIA will evaluate applications based on five demonstrations that the law says a state must make. A public-notice outlining those five demonstrations was released in July, and comments on the notice were due Aug. 18.

The law does not specifically outline the process that would follow if the NTIA does not approve a state’s application, but it would likely include some kind of negotiations between the state and FirstNet, MacBride said.

Any grant funding awarded under the SAPP program can only be used for construction of the state’s network and not for maintenance or upgrades, Dunn said. Any state that opts out will be responsible for maintaining and upgrading its network according to FirstNet’s network policies.

Funding levels will be determined by the NTIA, and the agency will release more information on that process as it gets closer to releasing the application, MacBride said.

Several states, including Colorado and New Hampshire have already released requests for information (RFIs) and RFPs that they say will help their governors in making a decision.

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