A House subcommittee next week will conduct a hearing examining some of the issues surrounding the FirstNet “opt-in/opt-out” decisions that most governors must make by Dec. 28, according to an announcement released today.

The House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology—a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee—will conduct the hearing, which is scheduled to begin at 10:15 a.m. Wednesday. The hearing “examine the latest developments in the deployment of FirstNet, the first nationwide, interoperable broadband public safety network,” with the focus being “the status of states opting in or out of the FirstNet Network,” according to a subcommittee press release.

“Nationwide interoperability for our first responders has been a long time coming, and it’s critical—for their sake and the public’s—that we get this right,” subcommittee chairwoman Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said in a prepared statement. “As next week’s hearing demonstrates, we are committed to monitoring FirstNet’s progress to ensure it brings modern communications capabilities to the brave men and women who keep us safe. It’s vital that we deliver on a system that our firefighters, police officers, EMTs, and all those on the frontlines of public safety can rely on,” 

No witness list had been posted for the hearing as of the publication of this article.

Under the law that established FirstNet, governors in all 56 states and territories have the choice of making an “opt-in” decision—accepting the FirstNet deployment plan and allowing AT&T to build the LTE radio access network (RAN) within the state’s borders at no cost to the state—or pursuing the “opt-out” alternative, which would require the state to be responsible for building and maintaining the RAN for the next 25 years.

House subcommittee members will conduct the hearing in the wake of disclosures by FirstNet about the potential fees and penalties that states and territories could pay in an “opt-out” scenario, which would make the state responsible for deploying and maintaining the LTE radio access network (RAN) within its borders for the next 25 years.

FirstNet officials have claimed that the payments for access to the 20 MHz of 700 MHz Band 14 spectrum licensed to FirstNet and the penalties that an “opt-out” state would pay for failing to meet public-safety-adoption thresholds within the state mirror the terms of the contract with AT&T, FirstNet’s contractor.

While these figures have created some concerns within state governments, the greatest outcries have surrounded the opt-out-termination penalties that FirstNet has given governors. These figures represent the payment that an “opt-out” state would need to make if its “opt-out” alternative RAN failed—whether the cause is a vendor bankruptcy or a lack of performance—sometime in the future, and the state wanted to have FirstNet/AT&T provide the RAN.

Although the opt-out-termination penalties were not supposed to be released, California officials have acknowledged publicly that the penalty would be $15 billion for its state, while a $173 million figure for the state of Vermont has been reported widely.

While the details of the opt-out-termination penalties are not known, sources indicate that the figures are designed to provide FirstNet with enough money to reconstitute the public-safety LTE network in a state, if its “opt-out” plan is not successful. In addition, the opt-out-termination fee would be different, based on when a failure would occur—for instance, the financial penalty for an opt-out failure in year 23 of the 25-year deal would be smaller than it would be for a failure in year 8, according to sources.