Strickling: NTIA Focused on Sustainable Business Model for Public-Safety Broadband Network (5/15/12)
Tuesday, May 15, 2012 | Comments

By Sandra Wendelken
Federal officials charged with overseeing the public-safety broadband network are focused on “a sustainable business model that will offer services at an attractive price to public-safety organizations,” said Larry Strickling, assistant secretary of commerce for communications and information.

As part of that focus on potential costs, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the agency charged with overseeing the governance body of the network, partially suspended the $380 million in public-safety broadband grants awarded to seven states and jurisdictions in 2010. The agencies, including Adams County, Colo.; Charlotte, N.C.; Los Angeles Regional Interoperability Communications Systems (LA-RICS) authority; the state of Mississippi; Motorola Solutions for California’s Bay Area Urban Areas Securities Initiative (UASI); the state of New Jersey; and the state of New Mexico were in varying stages of buildout. Charlotte had planned to launch service this summer.

“The new law dramatically changes the assumptions on which we awarded these grants in 2010,” Strickling said. “These new circumstances, combined with our obligation to prudently manage federal dollars, require us to reassess how to proceed with these projects while FirstNet organizes itself to design and build the single interoperable network envisioned by Congress.”

Strickling said that many stakeholders, including vendors, don't agree with the decision and have said that the project should go forward because the networks could be used by the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet). FirstNet is scheduled to be in place by Aug. 22.

“I certainly acknowledge that proceeding with one or more of these projects could yield valuable information for FirstNet,” Strickling said. “However, proceeding with these projects when FirstNet has not even met, much less made any decisions about the network design, could put at risk the millions of taxpayer dollars that are funding these projects. Purchase and installation of 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) equipment now could add costs to the FirstNet network and negatively impact the ultimate business case and deployment of the national network in ways that could make the network economically unattractive to public-safety customers.”

NTIA published a frequently asked questions (FAQ) document about the public-safety broadband grants here. “Current vendor self-certification of compliance with Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) standards does not ensure interoperability with equipment from other manufacturers,” said the FAQ. NTIA is seeking an extension for the September 2013 deadline for the grants, and said recipients can submit a revised scope and budget for the projects within 45 days. The projects can move forward with non-LTE expenditures, said the document.

Strickling also highlighted the fact that the legislation creating the public-safety network directs FirstNet to leverage existing commercial wireless infrastructure “to the maximum extent possible” along with existing local and state facilities. “In fact, the law expects that private industry will build and operate the network under contract and oversight by FirstNet,” he said.

In addition to the focus on a sustainable business model, NTIA is also concentrating on understanding the user requirements for the network and the grant program for state and local governments. To that end, NTIA released a request for information (RFI) that is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register later this week.

The agency is also working to select a board of directors for FirstNet. NTIA requested nominations to the board earlier this month.

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