FirstNet Board Member Sue Swenson has been the lead negotiator between FirstNet and seven Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) public safety projects on 700 MHz spectrum leases. She provided an update on Thursday on the process and status of those negotiations.

The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 created the First Responder Network Authority, or FirstNet, an independent entity within the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). The act directs FirstNet to establish a single nationwide, interoperable public safety broadband network. The FirstNet Board is responsible for making strategic decisions regarding FirstNet’s operations.

That new law enacted last year dramatically changed the assumptions on which NTIA awarded the seven public safety BTOP projects in 2010. View the factsheet and current board members here.

The board in February adopted a resolution outlining its path forward with the seven public safety BTOP grantees, whose funding was partially suspended following enactment of the law that created FirstNet.

“We’re pleased with the progress we’ve made thus far in our spectrum lease negotiations with the BTOP public safety projects,” said Swenson in a prepared statement. “These jurisdictions and FirstNet’s team have had some very productive discussions on the draft framework for a lease agreement….”

Since the board’s decision in February, Swenson and the BTOP projects have been informally conducting as much of their preliminary negotiations work as possible as a group, according to the NTIA. Each of the projects has identified its lead negotiator and has named a coordinator for their group to facilitate exchanges of information.

“While the Board has discussed a common set of terms and conditions it wants to see embodied in each agreement, there are likely to be differences in some terms in the final lease agreements given the fact that the projects are at different stages of maturity,” said Swenson. “In addition, the board has allowed us the flexibility to capture any special project characteristics in an agreement.”

Swenson explained that such special conditions might include how a project will address rural or wide-area deployments, in-building coverage issues, development of public safety applications, billing and provisioning, or other specific project features that FirstNet could leverage to generate valuable lessons learned to help it develop and implement its plan for the nationwide network’s deployment.

To ensure that BTOP grant funds are “prudently” invested, the NTIA partially suspended the seven BTOP projects in May 2012 so that they would proceed in a manner that better supported the development of the nationwide network.

The seven projects are: the Adams County (Colorado) Communications Center, the City of Charlotte (North Carolina), the Executive Office of the State of Mississippi, the Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications System Authority, Motorola Solutions, Inc. (San Francisco Bay area), the New Jersey Department of the Treasury, and the New Mexico Department of Information Technology.

While the Board’s resolution applies only to its negotiations with these specific BTOP projects, a representative of a similar project in Texas, funded with grants awarded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, has been participating in the group’s discussions as an “observer,” given the likelihood that FirstNet and Texas will commence negotiations on a spectrum lease in the near future.

The Texas project has been operating under Special Temporary Authority granted last year and recently was extended by the Federal Communications Commission. FirstNet representatives noted that it would seek to establish specific terms and conditions in any spectrum lease it considers with Texas.

Under the spectrum lease process envisioned by the board, if negotiations with a BTOP grantee conclude successfully within the 90-day window, and the board approves the agreement and FirstNet then would execute a spectrum lease with the grantee. In addition, FirstNet would provide a recommendation to NTIA, the administrator of the BTOP program, in support of that grantee’s request to lift the partial suspension of its funding.

The NTIA will have the final decision on whether lifting a grant suspension is a prudent use of taxpayer funds.