FCC Adopts Criteria to Evaluate States’ FirstNet Opt-Out Plans

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The FCC finalized the technical criteria the Commission will use to evaluate plans from those states that elect to opt-out of the network that will be deployed by the First Responder Network Authority. In June, the agency adopted procedures for administering the state opt-out process, Inside Towers reported, and then sought public input on its technical criteria.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said the decision is another step towards the creation of a nationwide interoperable public safety broadband network. First responders “put their lives on the line each and every day to keep us safe. We owe it to them to give them the tools they need to do their jobs.”

FirstNet filed an “interoperability compliance matrix” documenting the necessary technical standards to ensure a state or territory’s Radio Access Network (RAN) is interoperable with the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network. FirstNet proposed the Commission’s review align with recommended requirements from the Interoperability Board Report that apply to the use of Access Point Names (APNs). The FCC agreed, saying these standards are consistent with industry standards for LTE deployment, “resulting in an understandable and achievable benchmark.” Additionally, no one disputed FirstNet’s arguments or proposed a viable alternative, according to the Commission.

The FCC also agreed with FirstNet partner AT&T that operation of FirstNet will entail the use of several kinds of APNs, but disagreed with the carrier that opt-out states should use the same APNs as AT&T to comply. The Commission agreed with Rivada, its review should be limited to the criteria listed in FirstNet’s revised “FCC Evaluation Requirements,” and that the “NPSBN RFP J-4 Interface Reference” is reference information only, and not additional criteria for Commission evaluation.

What the FCC Left Out

As the Commission said in June, its review of state opt-out requests for FirstNet is only a first step. Those plans must also be reviewed by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and FirstNet. Cellular South, FirstNet rival Rivada Network — a consortium comprised of Intel, Ericsson, Nokia and Fujitsu — and the Competitive Carriers Association argued neither NTIA nor FirstNet can impose new or different interoperability requirements when they review state opt-out plans. The FCC declined to discuss other agencies’ responsibilities in its Friday decision.

Cellular South, Rivada, CCA, and Verizon all argued that opt-out states should be allowed to build their own network cores that can directly connect to FirstNet’s core. They argued that a direct state Radio Access Network to FirstNet core connection is not required, and asked the Commission to agree. The FCC declined, saying that raised issues outside the scope of its review, however that does not prevent FirstNet nor NTIA from considering the issue.

Because FirstNet chose AT&T to build out and operate the network, the FirstNet Colorado Governing Body argued the FCC must determine the carrier meets the interoperability requirements so it’s held to the same standards as opt-out states. The FCC declined, saying Congress didn’t specify this in the Public Safety Spectrum Act.

CCA argued AT&T has the incentive and ability to make proprietary device deals that could prevent states from getting opt-out approval or force them into unreasonable equipment terms, and urged the FCC to prohibit these kinds of actions. The Commission declined, saying this falls outside the scope of its duties.

Published September 18, 2017

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