FirstNet: Final Interpretations Include State Input
Tuesday, October 13, 2015 | Comments
Officials from the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) said the 64 final legal interpretations set to be released in the next few days include changes based on input from states and territories, specifically rural and coverage interpretations. Staff also outlined the state consultation plan for 2016.

Earlier this month, the board approved the 64 final interpretations from its first and second public notices, including the definition of rural, which it will incorporate into the final request for proposals (RFP) for the nationwide network. Although the definition of rural, taken from the Rural Electrification Act (REA), remains the same, FirstNet is “taking away the lower floor,” said TJ Kennedy, FirstNet president.

Kennedy referred to the special notice that requested comment on whether a population density below a five person per square mile or lower standards should be considered frontier or rural. General Counsel Jason Karp said during the October board meeting that there is no separate definition for frontier or wilderness in the final interpretations.

Kennedy said the legal interpretations also add more direction and context to the definition of rural. Several states included concerns about rural coverage and the definition of rural in their comments to FirstNet on the special notice and draft RFP. He said that although FirstNet plans to offer better coverage than a commercial carrier, the network is still bound by sustainability.

Kennedy said FirstNet continues to strive for an entrepreneurial culture, rather than being seen as federal entity. “It would be hard to find an entity within the federal government that looks like FirstNet,” he said. “We are communicating with the states and listening. Many of the hires [on the outreach team] come from state and local government. That resonates well with state and local stakeholders.”

Dave Buchanan, director of state consultation, said FirstNet plans a more targeted series of engagements with states in 2016, following each state’s single one-day meeting during the past year. The meetings will follow three tracks. The first is to expand education and outreach that states are doing. “We have the opportunity to do that because we’ve added regional teams and staff,” he said. “We are also going to target and make that outreach strategic.”

The second track is a series of task teams focused around network operations and topics to a targeted group of individuals from the state. The areas of prioritization and local control could be discussed, for example. “We would bring the content to the states, and they would bring the people most important to that topic,” Buchanan said. Hardening, training and security could also be topics, and some meetings could be conducted electronically to enhance efficiency.

The third track would be an executive consultation. “We want to target the critical players in the state who are most influential to the governor’s decision,” Buchanan said. “Most states have convened governance teams and indicated those teams need to include adding individuals and government cabinet members.”

Buchanan reiterated that states will be involved with developing their states plans, which are expected to be delivered beginning in 2017.

Sept. 30 was the deadline for states to supply coverage and other data collected from local and state officials for use in the state plans. Forty-seven states and territories replied by the deadline with more than 10,800 public-safety entities surveyed. For the states that didn’t participate, FirstNet will incorporate baseline data.

FirstNet officials spent Oct. 7 – 8 in Westminster, Colorado, for the state single points of contact (SPOC) meeting, attended by 130 state, local and tribal representatives from 51 states and territories.

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