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FirstNet reviewing state-plan comments, remains on schedule for ‘opt-in/opt-out’ decisions

FirstNet reviewing state-plan comments, remains on schedule for ‘opt-in/opt-out’ decisions

By: Donny Jackson in Urgent Communications

All states and territories have submitted formal or informal comments about their initial state plans to FirstNet, which expects to respond to the comments and integrate the input in final state plans that are slated to be distributed to governors in mid-September, according to a FirstNet official.

On June 19, FirstNet distributed initial state plans that outline how AT&T—FirstNet’s contractor to build, maintain and upgrade the nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN) for the next 25 year—would deploy the LTE radio access network (RAN) within the state’s borders. States and territories were asked to submit comments on the initial state plans by Aug. 4.

Rich Reed, FirstNet’s chief customer officer, declined release the number of comments received but said FirstNet’s staff is in the process of sorting through them.

“The team is literally compiling, categorizing and looking at the content and types of questions we’ve received. Generally, they fall into buckets,” Reed said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “Right now, we’re looking at general questions, process questions, technical questions and coverage questions.”

FirstNet will not release the comments or its responses to the public, Reed said.

“We’re handling it very much like the state plans,” he said. “This is a dialogue between FirstNet and the state, and we’re keeping it private, much like we did the state-plan concept

“After all, they are commenting on the content [of the state plan, which is available only to specified personnel] and asking for more detail generally on that type of content.”

However, Reed said the online state-plan portal does include functionality that would let a state share its comments—and FirstNet’s responses—with other states, if desired.

After FirstNet responds to the state comments, the dialogue from the process will be incorporated in the final, official state plans that are slated to be distributed during the middle of September—FirstNet has not set an exact date yet, Reed said. At that point, each governor will have 90 days to decide whether to accept the state plan—known as an “opt-in” choice—or pursue the “opt-out” alternative, which makes the state responsible for building and maintaining the RAN within its borders.

“As you know, we’re very timeline-centric—our leadership is very much about making commitments and keeping them, so we’re sticking to our process,” Reed said. “We have 40-plus days to adjudicate those comments, as we promised, and then we will make the plans official and start the 90-day clock for a governor’s decision.

“We very much want the governor’s decision to take place by mid-December, and we want to stay committed to the timeline that’s been published—that’s the goal.”

Reed acknowledged that the timelines could be different in the three U.S. territories located in the South Pacific: Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands. Although FirstNet teams have conducted consultations with these three territories, they have not received initial state plans.

FirstNet officials have tried to be sensitive to the unique situations in these three South Pacific territories, which are complicated by the fact that AT&T does not already provide these locations with the kind of extensive coverage that it does in the continental U.S., Reed said.

“We think we have a path forward to get them to a state plan that meets their operational, cultural and pragmatic needs, in terms of mobile data,” Reed said. “We’re going to get that state plan out for them to review as quickly as possible. At that point, we will adjudicate comments on the plans and get those in the hands of governors as quickly as possible.

“We would most likely still allow them a review period. It may be truncated [in comparison with the current review period for other states and territories]—based on the amount of consultation that we’ve done, they may not need as much review time. But we’ll be respectful of their process; we’re not going to rush them through. We’re going to give them time to do what they need to do to get comfortable.

“We’re going to provide them with a state plan. We’re going to have them review it and tell us that their comfortable, and then we’ll make it available to the governor. If that takes a week, so be it. If that takes a month, so be it. We’ll dialogue with them until they’re comfortable.”

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