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UPDATE: FirstNet Looking to Help Lift Freeze on Public Safety BTOP Grants

FirstNet, the national, interoperable broadband communications network being funded by broadcast incentive auction proceeds, has taken a step toward potentially helping lift the The National Telecommunications & Information Administration's freeze on seven BTOP grants for emergency communications network buildouts.

That came at a FirstNet's board meeting Tuesday (Feb. 12), where the board agreed to begin negotiations with the grantees on terms and conditions, including interoperability, of allowing them to go forward, with NTIA having the final say.

Those seven grants are administered by NITA under its stimulus bill-funded the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program. The seven projects began a couple of years ago, before FirstNet was authorized by legislation passed last year. NTIA did not want to continue spending $380 million in taxpayer dollars for state efforts that might be superseded by FirstNet.

But now, subject to confirmation by NTIA that those buildouts will be interoperable with the planned nationwide network, they could allowed to go forward as kind of a test-bed for the network, whose board chairman, Sam Ginn, said at the meeting would combine national interoperability with state and local operational control.

Board member Craig Farrill outlined the five key goals of the network: 1. Reliability, 2. coverage, 3. exceeding public safety requirements, 4. low cost, and 5. early availability.

Early availability meant not 6 or 7 years, Farrill said, as well as bringing up parts of the network as soon as possible.

That is where the seven BTOP projects come in. They were described as part of a process of weaving state operations into a national quilt of interoperable communications, but the suggestion was they would be woven even before their was a quilt to stitch them into. That means that NTIA must be convinced they will be interoperable before it will sign off on lifting the partial freeze, said board member Sue Swenson.

Ginn said that business and technical and operational plans for the net will be offered up at an April board meeting, and said those would include input from industry being gathered informally already, and from ramped-up second-quarter info gathering. He said that the board was now in the right phase of the process to get the most out of those industry comments.

NTIA last week made $121 million available in
funding for states
to help them plan construction of their respective portions
of the network.