Deployment of Nationwide Public Safety Network to Begin in 2018

By Allyson Versprille

The deployment of the country’s first nationwide public safety broadband network is expected to begin in 2018, the project's acting director said June 16.

The First Responder Network, or FirstNet, is envisioned as a interoperable communication system for law enforcement and emergency services personnel that will work anywhere in the United

States and all territories. The effort begin in 2012 when Congress authorized $1 billion to kick off the program and created the First Responder Network Authority, which is tasked with building and operating the system.

In April, the First Responder Network Authority received $7 billion from a Federal Communications Commission auction to help the construction of the interoperable emergency system. The organization had until the hearing been reticent to state any timetable for its deployment publicly.

FirstNet intends to issue a request for proposals in 2016, with initial deployment of the system across the country slated for 2018, T.J. Kennedy, acting executive director of FirstNet, told lawmakers during a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on communications and technology hearing.

The network will continue to expand over time with additional coverage and capacity, Kennedy said. “It’s not a static network,” he said. “Every part of the country that has initial deployment will add to that deployment as time goes on. We plan on creating a recapitalized network that can be upgraded and maintained into the future.”

“I’m so excited about what FirstNet promises,” said Rep. Pete Olson, R-Texas. “Please, please, please, get going, get going, get going. We need this.”

Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., said, “A lot rides on this effort. We want to make sure that this is not only done but done very well. It’s a very big deal. It’s a very big deal for our country.”

Lawmakers were concerned about potential gaps in the system, as was Stu Davis, assistant director of the Ohio Department of Administrative Services.

“I’m concerned about the rural and remote areas of the state and to make sure that we have the appropriate coverage,” he said. “It was the message of FirstNet to have consistent coverage across the country, and it’s my fervent hope that that actually happens… But the question is the timing for those rural and remote areas — that’s going to be critical.”

FirstNet is reaching out to rural carriers and telecommunication providers to try to ensure continuous, cost-effective rural build out at every phase of the network’s deployment, Kennedy said.

“We’ve been encouraging them to respond to the draft RFP and respond with solutions, whether that is individually or that is as a team working together in regions or different parts of the country,” he said. “We are absolutely encouraging them to participate.”

FirstNet has also created a working group to try to ensure interoperable coverage in Native American tribal areas, Kennedy said.

To tackle coverage challenges, FirstNet has been looking into the use of deployables in rural areas as well as areas struck by natural disasters. Potential solutions include satellite backhaul and high-powered mobile devices, Kennedy said.

“Having the ability to get communications much deeper into our rural communities for public safety is absolutely critical,” he told lawmakers.  

Cyber security is another concern for FirstNet. Kennedy described it as “absolutely critical” going forward. A security architect has joined the FirstNet team to leverage cyber security efforts by theDepartment of Homeland Security and other agencies, he said.

Topics: Homeland Security, Emergency Communications

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