States Face Big Decisions for Nationwide Public-Safety Broadband Network
June 20, 2012
State and local officials have big decisions to make later this year as the governance structure for the nationwide public-safety broadband network falls into place.
At the National Public-Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) meeting earlier this month, Anna Gomez, assistant deputy administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), provided an update on the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), scheduled to be in place by Aug. 20. Gomez outlined some of the hefty decisions each state will need to make.
FirstNet, an independent authority within NTIA, must complete the request for proposals (RFP) process for the construction, operations, maintenance and improvements of the nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN) as one of its first tasks.
Upon completion of the RFP process, FirstNet will notify the governor or designee of each state with details of the proposed plan for buildout of the network in the state and funding levels for the state as determined by NTIA.
Within 90 days after being notified by FirstNet, each governor must choose whether the state will participate in the deployment of the nationwide public-safety broadband network as proposed by FirstNet or conduct its own deployment of a radio access network (RAN) in the state.
If a state decides to opt out, the governor must notify FirstNet, NTIA and the FCC, and state officials then have 180 days to develop and complete RFPs for the construction, maintenance and operations of the RAN within the state.
The state must submit an alternate plan for the construction, maintenance and operations of the RAN within the state to the FCC, and the plan must demonstrate that the state will be in compliance with the minimum technical interoperability requirements of the nationwide network. Those requirements were developed by the Technical Advisory Board for First Responder Interoperability in May
. The FCC must approve and provide any revisions to the guidelines this week — by June 21.
The FCC will then review and either approve or disapprove a state’s plan. If approved, the state can apply to NTIA for a grant to construct — not operate and maintain — the RAN within the state. The state must also apply to NTIA to lease spectrum capacity from FirstNet.
To obtain a grant and lease, the state must demonstrate it has:
• Technical capability to operate, and the funding to support, the state RAN;
• Ability to maintain ongoing interoperability with the nationwide PSBN;
• Ability to complete the project within the specified comparable timelines specific to the state;
• Cost-effectiveness of the state plan; and
• Comparable security, coverage and quality of service to that of the NPSBN.
If the FCC rejects a state’s opt-out plan, the construction, maintenance, operations and improvements of the network within the state shall proceed in accordance with the FirstNet plan. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has exclusive jurisdiction to review a decision of the FCC.
If a state chooses to build its own RAN, it must pay any user fees associated with the state use of elements of the nationwide public-safety broadband network. There will be a minimum 20 percent matching requirement for both the state and local planning grants and the state construction grants.
Industry officials agree that it’s premature to speculate on decisions surrounding FirstNet and opting into the network. “The challenge is probably having the patience to wait until FirstNet provides us with a national architecture,” said James Bogner, Iowa statewide interoperability coordinator. “Some want it now, and that impatience will lead to mistakes in their own state planning and implementation efforts.”
“If states begin planning now to opt out, it would jeopardize the successful implementation of a truly nationwide network,” said Ray Lehr, interoperability director for the state of Maryland. “State leadership will need to make an informed decision when the FirstNet board contacts the governor, so their efforts now should be on preparation for deployment.”
Local, regional and state officials should develop a regional consensus of what the network should look like and provide, Lehr said. “The NTIA is developing the planning grant specifics now, but states can begin addressing their governance, start an inventory of assets and determine the stakeholders,” he said. “Knowing if you have 6,000 potential users or 600,000 will impact design, deployment, operation and maintenance greatly, and a simple questionnaire can help define that number.”
Executives with consulting firms agree that gathering information and defining requirements is important. “We would encourage our customers to establish a collaborative tone with FirstNet,” said Joe Ross, partner with Televate. “We would urge states to cooperate and try to work together to the greatest extent possible.”
“In general we believe it would be prudent for each state to start the [information-gathering] process as soon as possible that will to enable them to make timely participation decisions,” said Neil Horden, Federal Engineering consultant. “This should include performing an overall life-cycle cost benefit analysis of opting in or out, since there will be cost impacts to each approach, and each state will ultimately be responsible to their user base and constituents regarding spending on any broadband program.”
Opting into the network has numerous benefits. FirstNet would handle most of the issues, such as managing vendors, the business model and governance.
“It is anticipated that the benefits would be inclusion in one well thought-out and well-planned nationwide network in a smooth consistent nationwide system with basic standards and uniformity in structure, operation and equipment,” said Bogner. “That is very good, and bulk purchasing should bring costs down.”
Industry officials also agree that the best way to move forward now is for states to have an open dialogue with NTIA officials about their needs and requirements. “Iowa will follow, plan, stay informed and make our decision when it is appropriate to do so with the accurate information we need,” Bogner said. “But also by staying engaged, we will be assisting in the shaping of the national network to best meet the needs of the public-safety community in Iowa.”