FCC reauthorizes FirstNet’s use of Band 14

The Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau (PSHSB) of the FCC last week granted the use of the 700 MHz Band 14 to FirstNet for 10 more years, although that’s contingent on Congress extending FirstNet’s authorization. Separately, efforts are underway in Congress to make FirstNet’s authorization permanent.

Multiple public safety agencies submitted comments to the FCC in support of unconditionally granting FirstNet’s license renewal. Members of the Verizon First Responder Advisory Council and T-Mobile were among those submitting comments opposing unconditional renewal.

According to the FCC, none of the parties advocated denial of FirstNet’s renewal application but they urged the agency to apply stricter scrutiny and/or to impose conditions on the license.

The FCC noted that the Spectrum Act calls for the deployment of a nationwide public safety broadband network (NPSBN) in the 700 MHz band and established FirstNet as an independent authority within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

Some commenters argued that FirstNet is required under the Spectrum Act to make its network interoperable with non-FirstNet networks and that the commission should impose this requirement as a license condition, according to the FCC. FirstNet responded that the Spectrum Act requires FirstNet’s own network to support nationwide interoperability but doesn’t mandate interoperability with other networks.

“FirstNet also asserts that its network is interoperable with other networks to the same extent that commercial LTE networks are interoperable with one another,” the PSHSB stated. “We find that FirstNet has satisfied the requirement in Section 1422(a) to build and operate an ‘interoperable’ nationwide network. The Spectrum Act sought to ensure that the NPSBN would support interoperable communications by all public safety users of the network nationwide. Section 1422(a) does not state that the NPSBN must be interoperable with networks other than the NPSBN, and we decline to read such a requirement into the Act.” 

NTIA’s support

U.S. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, D-Texas, recently reintroduced the FirstNet Reauthorization Act. The original legislation that created FirstNet included a sunset provision to terminate the program 15 years after its enactment.  Fletcher is proposing legislation that reauthorizes FirstNet by striking the original sunset provision and making FirstNet permanent. 

During a hearing last week, NTIA Administrator Alan Davidson said FirstNet in many ways has been “an amazing success story” of a public/private partnership. AT&T won the 25-year FirstNet contract in 2017.

Davidson said he served in the Commerce Department in 2015-2016, when “FirstNet was just a PowerPoint presentation. It was an idea.”

Years later, it’s gratifying to “come back now and see a network that is supporting over 4.7 million first responders around the country” and more than 25,000 public safety agencies, he said. “The network is working incredibly well.”

Because the project sunsets in 2027, it’s crucial that Congress pass the reauthorization legislation, according to Davidson, who added that it should be done well in advance of the actual deadline.