FirstNet Responds to SMLA Criticism with New Webpage
Monday, October 30, 2017 | Comments

The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) released new information that it said states and territories need to make their opt-in or opt-out decisions, addressing questions around the fees proposed in draft spectrum lease manager agreements (SMLAs) among other items.

A new page on the FirstNet website called “FirstNet Facts” said FirstNet is “asking no more of an opt-out state than what we are requiring of our NPSBN (national public-safety broadband network) contractor to ensure the sustainability, interoperability and security of the network for public safety.”

Several of the questions specifically address the SMLA after state officials questioned some information in draft SMLAs sent to states that requested the information.

At least one governor has called for clarification of proposed fees and penalties that “appear to be arbitrary and primarily designed to deter states from opting out of FirstNet plans.”

On its website, FirstNet has the following information under a question about the risks associated with the failure of a radio access network (RAN) in an opt-out state and how that is addressed in the SMLA. “FirstNet would incur the costs of reconstituting the RAN, including potentially finding another vendor, so that public-safety users could continue to perform their life-saving missions with minimal disruptions to their communications,” the website said. “To mitigate the consequences of a RAN failure, the SMLA would require the state to pay the full cost of reconstituting the RAN in the state and operating it for the remainder of the agreement’s term. FirstNet has provided estimates of these potential costs to the states to promote transparency and increase their understanding of the significant responsibility of deploying, operating and maintaining the RAN. These estimates reflect building and operating a new band 14 RAN for the remainder of the SMLA term given the likely technical, operational and financial complications that a new provider would face in reusing any components from a failed RAN and the significant ongoing RAN operating costs.”

The potential costs reach billions of dollars in some states as outlined in the SMLAs.

Under a question about whether states are being penalized or required to pay a fee to opt out, FirstNet said: “Under the NPSBN contract, FirstNet achieves the act’s goal for a self-sustaining network, in part, by receiving substantial and guaranteed payments from AT&T for use of the spectrum over the next 25 years. An opt-out state that seeks to use FirstNet’s spectrum must make payments in the amounts that would have been received for use of the spectrum in that state under the NPSBN contract. This ensures public safety across the country will continue to benefit from at least the same level of reinvestment in the network through the next 25 years as they would have under the contract.”

FirstNet’s contract with AT&T has not been made public.

“The terms and conditions of the SMLA reflect legislative requirements, standard telecommunications industry regulations, and the critical role of the network in supporting public-safety communications,” the website said.

In a blog post, FirstNet CEO Mike Poth said FirstNet will highlight common questions, with its responses, on the new webpage and will update it “regularly as state/territory and public safety questions come in.” The website is here.

“FirstNet is working closely with the states and territories through their single points of contact and governors’ offices to help them understand the many inputs and details they must factor into their decision-making process,” the blog said.

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