FirstNet: Get Utilities to Pay for It

Posted by Sam Churchill on

A group of 11 states in the western half of the U.S. will coordinate their efforts to build the much-anticipated 700 MHz nationwide broadband network that will be built by FirstNet, reports

FirstNet and the NTIA will work together in a group known as the Western States Alliance that includes Idaho, Montana, Utah, South Dakota and Wyoming, as well as recently added states Arizona, California, New Mexico, Oregon and Nebraska.

The group wants to develop a sustainable business model that will deliver an effective broadband network at a price that user groups can afford. Public-private partnerships with entities such as utilities will be critical, according to Chris Magenheimer, battalion chief for North Lake Tahoe Fire Department and manager for the State of Nevada Network (SONNet).

“I think that’s the biggest key, and we really have to look at how this thing is going to pan out,” Magenheimer said. “What I can guarantee you is that, in this state and in the Western region, public safety is not going to be able to pay for the thing [by itself]. So, we need those partnerships.”

Cost estimates of building and using a dedicated first responder cellular network on the 700 MHz band is likely to be pricey, perhaps 2-3 times the cost of comparable commercial LTE service. If utilities could subsidize FirstNet costs (one way or another), it might be more affordable. The Bay Area Regional Interoperable Communications Systems (BayRICS) was one of the first to test out the 700 MHz LTE system. But it won’t be cheap.

The total cost of the FirstNet 700 MHz network is not known, but AT&T and Verizon have invested about $30 billion each in their LTE upgrades, notes Andrew Seybold, and they already had cell sites and infrastructure in place.

The $7 billion federal funding for FirstNet is just a drop in the bucket. The only way it may be affordable is to “tax” utility ratepayers.

Motorola Solutions will build, own, operate and maintain the LTE network — known as BayWEB in the San Franciso bay area. They will build and run it for 12 years, then turn over the network to the Bay Area Regional Interoperable Communications System (BayRICS) Authority. The $72 million project is jointly funded through a federal BTOP grant of $50.5 million and $22 million in private funding from Motorola Solutions.

From February 10, 2012 to February 9, 2022 it will cost approximately $300,000 in one-time costs, $108,000 in annual recurring user subscription fees, and $80,000 in annual recurring site support costs (pdf). But other operational costs will boost the overall cost from $157/mo per user to $200/mo per user, according to Chris Flatmoe, San Mateo County’s representative on the JPA board.

Commercial LTE service costs about 1/4 that amount. Whether utility ratepayers get stuck with the bill remains to be seen.

FirstNet may already be obsolete.

Municipal fiber networks such as Gigabit Seattle and Gigabit Chicago are designed to offer shared fiber backbone and local broadband wireless. Municipal fiber serves small cells and uses a city’s rights-of-way, in exchange for bandwidth. Every major cellular carriers is planning to install tens of thousands of urban small cells in the next few years — but building duplicated fiber networks everywhere is too expensive. And they want access to public spaces.

Shared municipal fiber is a model that works. Everyone benefits. Cities, commercial providers, first responders, and citizens get Gigabit backbones. Demand is proven. Cost is shared.

FirstNet’s macrocell approach is a well-intentioned, big government program, that’s already obsolete. Like the trillion dollar F-35 jet fighter, it may never get off the ground without a huge taxpayer bailout.

Related Dailywireless articles include; Seattle’s Gigabit Fiber CityNet , Chicago Announces Free WiFi in Parks, Municipal Networks: Good for Cities?, Genachoski : Gigabit Fiber in 50 States by 2015 , SF Public Service Net: In Trouble?, Street light Provides Wi-Fi, Cell Coverage, Hotspot 2.0, Public Safety Spectrum Grab, Public Safety: Show Us The Money, Phoney Spectrum Scarcity, D-Block: It’s Done; Congress Pays, The 700MHz Network: Who Pays?, Big Bucks for 700 MHz Public Safety,

Posted by Sam Churchill on Friday, March 15th, 2013 at 8:39 am .

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