Wednesday, March 13, 2013

State BTOPs and the Lack of Funding for the National Public Safety Broadband Network or FirstNet

Donny Jackson, of Urgent Communications, just wrote an interesting article titled: “Early Deployments can be Key to FirstNet Success.” Mr. Jackson highlights how the current push to get the BTOP funding back online is having a positive impact on one thing – it brings to light the question of where will the funding come from?

I want to address two important topics from this discussion; one is about the reasoning for the State’s to test their own LTE solution; and the other is the lack of funding still hasn’t been addressed.

If the current Pilot LTE projects (that were being paid by the BTOP grants) are important to the State then FirstNet should just release the spectrum to be used by the State under a short time-period (which they are doing). Why does the NTIA give a short-time period? Because they will need that spectrum when the real network gets deployed. But why does the NTIA, or FirstNet, need to add funding to support those tests? Haven’t they already committed 100 Million to the Denver labs to do the same thing?

I’m being facetious here; if it were I, and I have to do some testing, then just give me the spectrum and I will do the testing the way I want to. I know the use of the spectrum comes with limitations, but I don’t plan on using this spectrum for anything other than testing…. right? Therefore, and I know, that the testing of a State’s physical LTE is not part of the plan for FirstNet, so why shouldn’t I (as a State) pay for it? If, later on, I want to use the testing infrastructure as part of the overall State rollout then I need to make sure it gets hardened enough so that it meets the standards. Maybe then I can recoup some of the pilot money we spent! We won’t be able to pass along the actual LTE technology because the version that will be deployed in the trial is not what is being rolled out in the future. Or, I can just wait so that I don’t interfer with the State’s, and FirstNet’s, possible Public Private Partnership scenarios.  Maybe it would be easier to sell the testing infrastructure and assets to private equity who would possibly pay for the entire statewide PSBN solution? 

Let’s face it, the BTOP spending of yesteryear was mainly for fiber transport, and LMR centralization projects, and was ultimately helping the State to expand their plans of that time; we need to understand that  times are different and the plans have changed. Broadband LTE has taken over the course that Public Safety should invest in. The only way to deliver such a solution, with the least amount of troubles, yet maintain a “self-funding” characteristic, is through a State generated Public Private Partnership (P3) with private investors.

It may be just me, but if a State wants to test LTE, two years before FirstNet actually starts to rollout, then so be it. It's their money and their taxpayers. What’s wrong with this picture? Is it just me or does this seem asinine? 

On a more serious note; the lack of funding needs to be addressed on multiple fronts. For the real purposes of FirstNet I agree that the SLIGP grant funding (not BTOP) needs to insure a few precursor objectives.

  1. We need to insure we have enough money to capture the RFP activities that the State’s require for the purposes of FirstNet (assets, specifications and hardening requirements).
  2. The State needs to be able to pay for outreach and educating its State agencies and entities. Specifically those that will be paying for service from the State PSBN solution.
  3. The State’s need support for negotiations with Private Equity respondents to the advertised RFP.
  4. From this point forward the rest of the funding will come from Private Equity and the recurring revenue accumulated from the Federal and State Priority 1, 2 and 3 users of the network.
Notice that there is no need to go to the State Legislature for budgeting of State tax dollars. Heck we don’t even need the 7 Billion the Feds have promised. If we are forced to spend the 7 Billion, then I suggest we buy more ownership in the investment stakes of each of the State’s P3 plans. But we know that will never happen.

In short, we will build a private broadband company for the State, funded with private investment, to monetize the use of the spectrum and maintain its self-funding trait. The only way this scenario is possible is through a State controlled Public Private Partnership (P3). After 11 years of research on this topic I can safely contribute that without the P3 there will never be enough funding. This is specifically why the carriers want FirstNet to allow them to build it -- because they want to monetize the spectrum for themselves. So why can’t a State do the same?

Just some guy and a blog….

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