Officials with FirstNet and the federal government are committed to working with key local representatives to help the Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications System (LA-RICS) develop a “viable” alternative for its troubled public-safety LTE system, according to FirstNet Chairwoman Sue Swenson.

Last Friday, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) suspended construction on the LA-RICS LTE network, which has unraveled in the wake of decisions by elected officials to prevent deployment of public-safety LTE sites on property owned by Los Angeles County and the city of Los Angeles. NTIA administers the $154.6 million in federal Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) grant that is funding most of the proposed LA-RICS network and is due to expire on Sept. 30.

To get the NTIA suspension lifted, LA-RICS needs to propose an alternative plan to NTIA by next Monday, April 13. However, LA-RICS officials will not have to develop the plan alone, Swenson said. 

“It’s all hands on deck,” Swenson said Friday during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “We’re not just saying, ‘LA-RICS, you figure it out.’ They’re getting support from Motorola [Solutions, the LA-RICS vendor]. They’re getting support from FirstNet. They’re getting support from NTIA. They’re getting support from the state. Everybody is really pulling together to try to figure this out.

“I think that’s a good thing. Nobody is saying, ‘You’re on your own; figure it out.’”

Although NTIA has suspended any construction on the LTE project by LA-RICS, Swenson noted that LA-RICS can use federal grant monies to fund development of a revamped project.

“[NTIA’s suspension] has stopped construction, but [LA-RICS officials] still have resources to go forward and develop an alternative plan,” Swenson said. "So, we haven’t completely cut them off 

“I think it’s important to know that NTIA is being very reasonable in its management of the grant, because obviously they [LA-RICS personnel] need resources to come up with an alternative plan. We can’t just cut them completely off.”

Last year, LA-RICS signed a contract with Motorola Solutions to build a public-safety LTE network that was designed to have 232 cell sites, all of which would be located on government-owned property that would not be subject to time-consuming state environmental procedures. However, objections from public-safety unions and local residents over the deployment of the cell sites have caused several key jurisdictions to halt construction on the project, which now has access to only “about 50” of the original sites, according to LA-RICS Executive Director Patrick Mallon.

Swenson said that officials began looking at potential alternatives to the LA-RICS public-safety LTE plan after the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted on March 24 to halt construction on most county sites—almost half of the total sites in the LTE system—until concerns from the unions and residents could be addressed.

“We’ve been looking at different alternatives—maybe a smaller footprint, potentially, but one that’s contiguous and that could provide a broadband experience,” Swenson said. “The good news is that everybody has the same outcome that they’re striving toward.

“It may look different than what we currently have, and there are certain criteria that obviously have to be met, but nobody’s working against each other on this, which is great.”

In separate interviews, both Mallon and Swenson said they were encouraged by the fact that the state of California—led by efforts from Karen Wong, the state’s single point of contact (SPOC) for FirstNet—has expressed interest in making assets available that could help LA-RICS fill coverage gaps or enhance capability on the public-safety broadband network.

“I think there are going to be some resources coming from the state to help out,” Swenson said. “And, if you think about it, that’s not a bad thing—to get the state and the big cities working together. I’m hoping that out of lemons comes lemonade.

“So, there could be some good outcomes coming out of this, if we manage through it right in the next week or so.”