Although the initial deployment phase of its public-safety LTE system essentially is done, Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications System (LA-RICS) has secured a five-year extension from Congress that will let it and other Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) grant recipients utilize unspent funds through fiscal year 2020.

This language was included in the Continuing Resolution legislation that allowed the federal government to remain operating, even though Congress has not approved a budget. In the measure, “funds made available, including funds that have expired but have not been cancelled” are available to be spent through fiscal year. BTOP grants were due to be spent by Sept. 30 of this year.

Although the Continuing Resolution could be replaced by an approved budget by Congress in the future, multiple Beltway sources indicate that the five-year extension language will remain law, unless Congress expressly overrides the language in the future.

During FirstNet board meetings earlier this month, it was announced that LA-RICS and the state of New Mexico had received a three-month extension to complete their early-builder projects. However, the five-year extension was not mentioned during the FirstNet meetings. During the FirstNet meeting, it was announced that 77 of the 78 sites for the LA-RICS public-safety LTE network had been completed.

The five-year extension is particularly important to LA-RICS, which can now spend more than $50 million in federal grants during the next five years, instead of having to return it to the U.S. Treasury on Sept. 30, as required under previous law.

LA-RICS was awarded $154.6 million in BTOP grants to build a 232-site public-safety LTE network that was supposed to be finished by Sept. 30. However, local opposition and construction delays caused LA-RICS to revamp the plan in April to a 78-site network that would require the expenditure of $90 million in BTOP grants.

When the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA)—the entity overseeing the BTOP grants—approved the revised plan, it also waived the requirement that LA-RICS had to meet the 20% local match requirement to use the federal grant money.

Several details regarding the five-year extension remain unclear—for instance, whether the NTIA’s earlier local-match waiver applied only to the initial phase of the LA-RICS public-safety LTE project or whether it also applies to BTOP grants spent under this five-year extension.

Another question is which BTOP grantees can benefit from the five-year extension. The new legislation applies to LA-RICS and New Mexico, but it is not clear whether it applies to BTOP recipients with halted projects, such as the state of Mississippi, which received a $70 million BTOP grant to build a statewide public-safety LTE project. That network reportedly was more than 50% complete when NTIA froze the use of BTOP funds after Congress established FirstNet in 2012.