House Lawmakers Focus on Rural Build-Out, Partnership Opportunities for FirstNet

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By Lydia Beyoud

June 16 — House lawmakers turned their attention to the ability of the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) to provide public safety broadband services in rural and remote areas of the country, during a hearing of the Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology Subcommittee.

Subcommittee ranking member Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) said June 16 that the wireless industry, particularly the competitive carriers in rural regions, should partner with FirstNet, an independent authority within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), to provide the emergency response services that FirstNet is intended to provide.

A number of subcommittee members asked FirstNet Acting Executive Director TJ Kennedy about FirstNet's ability to deliver such services and its willingness to collaborate with existing providers in rural and tribal areas.

NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association asked to submit a June 12 letter for the record regarding its concerns about the potential for network over-building in rural areas and the sale of excess spectrum capacity on the FirstNet network when not in use.

“The more you can minimize over-build or prevent it altogether, the better; but you've got to leverage the money you have in the most effective way,” subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said.

Spectrum leases to commercial carriers on the 7 megahertz spectrum band are one of FirstNet's three main funding mechanisms, Kennedy told the subcommittee. The others include a $7 billion construction budget, funded through the Federal Communications Commission AWS-3 auction, and user fees.

“Although this provides an important opportunity for FirstNet to fully utilize and monetize its spectrum assets, the commercial use of excess capacity also may have grave, unintended consequences in skewing the commercial marketplace,” the NTCA said.

The trade association said FirstNet hadn't provided a means in its proposed process for existing rural service providers to partner with the network to share existing assets.

Kennedy said FirstNet would address issues specific to rural carriers as part of final request-for-proposal (RFP) documents, and that the organization was working with NTCA and other groups to reach out to rural telecommunications providers. A third public notice seeking comment on the FirstNet proposals was issued April 24. Comments on the notice are due July 27.

The final RFP could be issued by the end of the year, or by early 2016 at the latest, Kennedy told reporters after the hearing.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lydia Beyoud in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at

Text of NTCA letter is at