The First Responder Network Authority now has a $7 billion pot to build the nation’s first interoperable emergency communications system designed to work in all 50 states, territories and the District of Columbia.
A recent Federal Communications Commission auction of newly available spectrum went much better than expected. Over the course of three auctions, a certain amount of the proceeds were to be allocated to FirstNet. That proved unnecessary. The funding was completed in November when wireless companies bid more than $40 billion for the spectrum blocks. That was some $30 billion more than analysts had expected, and immediately filled FirstNet’s coffers.
“It’s excellent news for public safety, and great news for FirstNet that that funding is secure and not a question mark,” TJ Kennedy, FirstNet acting executive director, said at an Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association homeland security conference.
FirstNet’s vision is a broadband network that is available to first responders from the urban canyons of New York City to the wilds of Alaska, and six territories.
When the authority will begin spending this pot of money on the infrastructure is the next question.
Kennedy displayed a PowerPoint chart with the picture of a long, winding road that included milestones leading up to the day when physical construction of the network begins. Conspicuously absent on the illustration were any dates.
Congress, when it passed the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 which created FirstNet, did not specify any deadlines as to when this network should be completed.
Kennedy, when asked by a journalist if he could give a timeframe for when the authority anticipated switching on the network, declined to even specify a decade.
However, he sounded an optimistic note.
Congress mandated that the authority consult with all the states and that it employ a traditional acquisition regime, which calls for issuing a request for proposals. Kennedy pointed out that these requirements are in the works concurrently. The organization is about halfway through consulting with each of the states and territories. As that happens, it is preparing to issue its first major draft request for proposals.
“Rather than doing those serially, we’re doing those in parallel,” he said. “We’re trying to greatly speed up the [rate] at which this can be done.”
He also declined to say when exactly the final RFP will be issued. The authority will want to wade through vendors’ comments on the draft first.
“We want to be able to react to the feedback of what we put out there and we want to make sure the market is going to respond,” he said.
“The good news is that we are moving with a sense of urgency,” he said.
Another factor is the growing experience U.S. industry and nations all over the world have building LTE wireless networks over the last four years.
“We have been able to watch commercial networks in the U.S. deploy 4G LTE on existing infrastructure, for the most part. … We have a very good feeling for how long it takes to do that,” he added. Photo Credit: Thinkstock