FirstNet Board Approves $240M Fiscal Year 2019 Budget, Honors Swenson
Monday, August 13, 2018 | Comments

The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) board of directors approved its fiscal year (FY) 2019 budget at an Aug. 13 meeting, moved up from its original September date. Chairwoman Sue Swenson, who will step down as chair later this month, was honored at the end of the meeting for her service to public safety.

The board passed a resolution allocating the FY 2019 budget of $240 million with revenues in three categories. The budget includes an operational budget of $81 million on an obligations basis plus a 10 percent reallocation allowance. The budget also has a reserve of $81 million, equal to one year of operations budget. The budget includes a future reinvestment option in network enhancements of $78 million on an obligations basis plus any additional budgetary sources derived in FY 2019.

This is the first year that FirstNet is being directly funded by annual sustainability payments from its network contractor, AT&T. In February, AT&T said it will make sustainability payments to FirstNet of $240 million during calendar year 2018.

FirstNet’s 2019 priorities outlined during the meeting include continued oversight of the buildout, operation and maintenance of the nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN) and continued outreach and advocacy to federal, tribal, state and local public safety. FirstNet will also drive innovation and seek technologies to advance public-safety communications, officials said.

Reinvestment in the NPSBN is another priority, and FirstNet officials said they have conducted an in-depth analysis and recommendations for future reinvestment efforts on behalf of public safety. Any excess revenue will be put back into network, said Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Kim Farrington.

A final priority is staff support for all network operations and FirstNet programs, audits and inspections, as well as all public-safety and board commitments.

“This action positions the FirstNet Authority for continued success as we work on behalf of public safety to ensure the network delivers what they asked for and evolves to meet their needs,” said Swenson. "With public safety's network currently available across the nation, the FirstNet Authority will now focus on public safety's vision and Congress' direction to fully realize the benefits of a dedicated nationwide public safety broadband network."

Jeff Bratcher, FirstNet chief technology and operations officer, said all FY 2018 deliverables required by the contract with AT&T have been submitted to date.

In addition, he said all band 14 spectrum has been cleared of narrowband operations following $27 million in grants to four state and seven municipal public-safety entities. About $23 million in grant funds were used, and the $4 million recouped funds will be available for NPSBN prioritized initiatives.

Bratcher said FirstNet is considering changes to its app review and certification processes to accelerate application population but he did not provide specifics. An AT&T spokesperson also declined to provide further details.

He also provided more details into task order four under FirstNet’s contract with AT&T. Task order four requires AT&T to build and operate the radio access network (RAN) in each state and territory and provide certain percentages of band 14 coverage in rural and nonrural areas within certain timeframes of signing the task order. FirstNet will also report any state-specific commitments identified in the state and territory consultation letters.

As part of the progress under task order four, Bratcher said FirstNet is validating band 14 site buildout, although he did not provide specifics. “We are still working through the validation and verification processes for task order four coverage deliverables,” said a FirstNet spokesperson when asked for more details on the validation process.

Bratcher also said 11,207 National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) requests, required before band 14 site installation, were accepted although he did not provide the total universe of NEPA requests necessary for the NPSBN.

FirstNet received 18 applications for new FirstNet board slots. After an initial review, recommendations were sent to Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and FirstNet is waiting Ross’ final decisions.

In April, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) issued a notice seeking expressions of interest from individuals who would like to serve on the FirstNet board. Barry Boniface stepped down from the board in 2016, and his position will be filled.

Additionally, four of the 12 appointments of nonpermanent members to the FirstNet board expire this month. Board members are appointed for a term of three years, and members may not serve more than two consecutive full three-year terms. Kevin McGinnis is finishing his second three-year term so will step down. Neil Cox, Ed Horowitz and Annise Parker all have terms expiring this month but are eligible to serve another three-year term if they seek to do so and are re-appointed.

The board also passed a resolution thanking Swenson for her service as board chairwoman since 2014. “The FirstNet board hereby extends its formal appreciation to Sue Swenson for her extraordinary expertise, experience, commitment and leadership as the board chair,” the resolution said.

Swenson’s second two-year term as board chair expires in this month but she will continue to serve on the board as chair of the Governance and Personnel Committee. Swenson's and Vice Chair Jeff Johnson's board terms expire in August 2019.

“Through her direction of the Board, the FirstNet Authority has evolved from startup mode to growth mode, and the network has advanced from concept to reality,” said FirstNet CEO Mike Poth. “On behalf of the FirstNet organization, we thank Sue for her leadership of the board and for her tireless commitment to public safety.”

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