The federal agency responsible for building a nationwide broadband network for public safety use, FirstNet, recently issued RFPs to build out and deploy the network. FirstNet’s goal is to select a winning bidder by the fourth quarter this year.
The network would provide for critical data communications over a dedicated, reliable and hardened connection as well as standard cellular voice at launch.
That’s a much-anticipated goal for Niagara County, N.Y. Sheriff Jim Voutour, whose department, which has ground, marine and aerial capabilities, recently completed a technological upgrade that will allow law enforcement officers to quickly analyze and receive data.
One of the immediate benefits Voutour sees with the FirstNet network is the ability to use smartphone apps connected to a secure, public-safety-grade network.
For example, the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office has launched several apps to help officers be more effective at their jobs. One app, called NYNiagaraSO, provides access to real-time detention center information with mug shots, charges and other offender information. The app can push information right to a user’s smartphone, including Amber Alerts (with photos of missing persons), news about escapees and searches, weather warnings and other local emergencies.
“In Niagara County we take technology very seriously. We are always looking forward,” Voutour told FirstNet. “The cops we are hiring today grew up with technology; they’ve had smartphones since they were 10 years old.”
In Texas, Brazos County is seeing the benefits that public safety broadband can provide. “This has made the laptop in a patrol car the equivalent of a network PC,” Brazos County Lt. Thomas Randall said when talking about the capabilities now available to his office. “We have gone from dial-up to a smartphone overnight.”
The state of Texas entered into a Spectrum Manager Lease Agreement (SMLA) with FirstNet in August 2014 for the operation of a public safety network in nearby Harris County utilizing the FirstNet licensed “Band 14” frequencies. The Brazos County Sheriff’s Office is testing the Harris County LTE network.
FirstNet has established on-the-ground working relationships with Harris County and Texas, along with four other “early builder” public safety Long Term Evolution (LTE) network projects — the states of New Jersey and New Mexico; Adams County, Colo.; and the Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications System Authority — to understand the key lessons learned in building, deploying and operating LTE data networks for public-safety-specific use.
For more information, visit www.FirstNet.gov.
What happens after the Firstnet bidder is selected?
Following the selection of a winning bidder of the RFP, FirstNet and its partner or partners will deliver individual state plans to the governors. The plans will detail the deployment of the National Public Safety Broadband Network and the Radio Access Network (RAN) within each state. The governor will have 90 days to decide to either accept the FirstNet State Plan (opt-in) or decide to create an Alternative Plan to build the state’s RAN (opt-out).
This decision requires the state to issue an RFP and develop an alternative plan within 180 days to build and pay for the RAN in the state. However, before deployment can begin, the act requires that the FCC, National Telecommunications and Information Administration and, ultimately FirstNet, approve the alternative plan to ensure interoperability, cost-effectiveness, sustainability and nationwide deployment.
How can counties get involved?
There are a number of opportunities and steps to do so, including:
- Contacting your state’s Single Point of Contact (SPOC) on FirstNet. To identify your state’s SPOC, go to http://www.firstnet.gov/consultation
- Participating in upcoming FirstNet discussions held in your state, including consultation activities, key governance body meetings and discussions about the FirstNet State Plan
- Understanding that upon launch the FirstNet LTE network will not replace first responders’ Land Mobile Radios (LMR). For more information, go to http://www.firstnet.gov/network/lmr.
More information can be found on the FirstNet YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/firstnetgov
Kyle Richardson, FirstNet, and Jacob Terrell, associate legislative director, contributed to this report.