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FirstNet to negotiate on pilot projects, announces new grants

BOULDER, Colo. – The FirstNet board has cleared the way for negotiations for seven early network projects to continue implementation and serve as real-world testing projects for a planned nationwide public safety broadband network.

The board voted Tuesday to allow board member Sue Swenson to negotiate with the seven recipients of Broadband Technology Opportunities Program grants on using FirstNet’s spectrum, a move that will allow the freeze placed on the grants by the National Telecommunications & Information Administration to be lifted and work can proceed.

The BTOP grants had initially been given to jurisdictions that wanted to be early deployers of broadband technology, but NTIA essentially suspended the use of the funds in order to give FirstNet a blank slate for designing and building its network. Board chairman Sam Ginn remarked that while the BTOP projects initially seemed like a stumbling block for FirstNet, the board’s view has evolved to see them as valuable pilot projects for testing technology and devices and gathering information on usage. As part of the negotiations, each project will develop an overarching plan for interoperability and eventually being folded into the larger FirstNet network.

FirstNet announced last week that it has $121.5 million in grants available to the 56 U.S. states and territories for planning and preparation at the state level for the deployment of FirstNet’s network. The State and Local Implementation Grant Program money is to be used for consultation, travel, education, and collecting information on infrastructure and equipment that could be used by FirstNet as it builds out its LTE network.

The board reviewed the broad outline of its plan to increase outreach efforts to states and local jurisdictions, public safety organizations, and vendors through speaking engagements and conference attendance, with more than 20 events on its calendar through July.

Several board members said that trips to New York in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy gave them new insight into the needs of public safety, as well as the challenges of designing a network that is flexible and tough enough to be operational even in the face of massive destruction from natural disasters.

Board member Craig Farrill said that as a network designer, Sandy reminded him that even the most hardened cell site would not have withstood the force of the storm in some areas, and that deployable mobile cell sites will be a critical part of keeping the network operational after storms such as Sandy. Other board members noted that while commercial networks had major issues, the public safety network in New York was largely successful in maintaining communications.

The board also approved a resolution to allow members to cast votes in writing on items that need quick action between meetings, rather than wait for the next board meeting. Only items with unanimous written agreement from the entire board can be approved in such a manner.

FirstNet also approved its first report to Congress, which can be read here.



Kelly Hill
Kelly Hill
Kelly reports on network test and measurement, as well as the use of big data and analytics. She first covered the wireless industry for RCR Wireless News in 2005, focusing on carriers and mobile virtual network operators, then took a few years’ hiatus and returned to RCR Wireless News to write about heterogeneous networks and network infrastructure. Kelly is an Ohio native with a masters degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley, where she focused on science writing and multimedia. She has written for the San Francisco Chronicle, The Oregonian and The Canton Repository. Follow her on Twitter: @khillrcr

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