Most governors will have at least until Dec. 25 to decide whether their states and territories will “opt-in” to FirstNet or pursue the “opt-out” option after the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) on Monday failed to provide key funding information for states that achieve “opt-out” status.

Last week, FirstNet updated the state-plan portals for all 50 states and three territories—the South Pacific territories of Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands have not received initial state plans. But NTIA did not release the funding level determination (FLD)—the amount of construction-grant money a state or territory could receive in an “opt-out” scenario—as of Monday, multiple sources confirmed to IWCE’s Urgent Communications. As a result, the statutory 90-day period for governors to make their “opt-in/opt-out” decisions has not yet started.

If the NTIA releases the funding levels today, the 90-day period technically would conclude on Monday, Dec. 25—a federal holiday for Christmas—for the 50 states and three territories. In this case, governors presumably would be given until Tuesday, Dec. 26, to provide their decisions.

No official explanation for funding-level delay has been provided, but multiple industry and Beltway sources have speculated that that NTIA construction-grant program theoretically could be very large—exceeding more than $1 billion—so the number of approvals needed within the government likely would be considerable.

Governors in 21 states and two territories already have announced their “opt-in” decisions, which means their jurisdictions have accepted the deployment plan provided by FirstNet and AT&T—FirstNet’s nationwide contractor—to build and maintain the radio access network (RAN) within the state or territory for the next 25 years. FirstNet released actionable state plan that enabled such early “opt-in” decision on June 19.

As with other “opt-in” jurisdictions, these states and territories would not be eligible for funding from the NTIA construction-grant program. Only states and territories that complete the “opt-out” process—something that is estimated to take a year or two—to build and maintain the RAN within their borders would be eligible for the NTIA construction grants.

Under the law that created FirstNet, official state-plan delivery to the governor requires three items:

  • Notification that FirstNet completed its procurement process;
  • Submittal of the official state plan by FirstNet; and
  • The NTIA construction-grant funding level a state or territory can expect to receive, if the state or territory meets other “opt-out” criteria.

Once the missing NTIA construction-grant funding levels are available, FirstNet can complete the official notification of state-plan delivery to most governors. At that point, governors have 90 days to make their “opt-in” or “opt-out” choice, which means the decision deadline will be no earlier than the last week of December.

Meanwhile, multiple state officials have confirmed to IWCE’s Urgent Communications that the FirstNet state plans that were updated last week also lack information about the payments that an “opt-out” state would have to make to FirstNet for access to the FirstNet LTE core and the 700 MHz Band 14 spectrum licensed to FirstNet.

Although not statutorily mandated like NTIA’s funding-level determination for official notification, these payments to FirstNet are expected to have a much greater impact on the financial feasibility of an “opt-out” initiative, according to multiple state and industry sources. Depending on the formula used to determine the payments to FirstNet, the total cost of these payments could exceed $1 billion during the 25-year period, particularly in states with attractive commercial wireless markets, according to sources.