Policy Brief

First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) Moving Forward

ACTION NEEDED:

Counties should continue to engage with their state’s designated Single Point of Contact (SPOC) for FirstNet to provide information on how emergency communications in your county can be improved as FirstNet continues to advance their efforts to build their nationwide public safety broadband network (NPSBN).  

BACKGROUND:

In February 2012, Congress enacted The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 (P.L. 112-96), which mandated the creation of a nationwide interoperable wireless broadband network that will enable police, firefighters, emergency medical service professionals and other public safety officials to more effectively communicate with each other during emergencies and use new technology to improve response time, keep communities safe and save lives. 

The law created the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), an independent authority within the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). Congress charged FirstNet to take “all actions necessary” to build, deploy and operate the network, in consultation with federal, state, tribal and local public policy entities.

FirstNet will develop and operate the new broadband network, which is to be based on a single, nationwide network architecture, thus enabling first responders and public safety officials to communicate with one another within and across jurisdictions. The secure and interoperable network will also support cutting-edge applications – for example, enabling firefighters to download blueprints of burning buildings in order to plan their entry route, allowing emergency medical technicians to remotely access a victim’s medical records from an ambulance, or helping police to identify criminal suspects through facial recognition or iris scanning technologies.

On January 13, 2016 the First Responder Network Authority issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the deployment of the nationwide public safety broadband network FirstNet.  The release of the RFP signifies a major step forward in the future implementation of the network.

The RFP officially closed on April 29, 2016, and FirstNet is currently in the process of selecting a winning bidder.

The winning bidder of the RFP will be responsible for building and operating the network, and get the benefit of monetizing any unused spectrum.  

FUNDING:

Congress allocated $7 billion of spectrum auction proceeds and valuable spectrum bandwidth toward deployment of the nationwide network. Congress also provided $135 million for a new State and Local Implementation Grant Program administered by NTIA to support state, regional, tribal and local jurisdictions’ planning work with FirstNet to ensure the network meets their wireless public safety communications needs. FirstNet will also seek to leverage existing commercial and government infrastructure for the new network.

FIRSTNET GOVERNANCE:

Congress directed that FirstNet be run by a 15-person Board of Directors who are responsible to make strategic decisions regarding FirstNet’s operations, with the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Attorney General and the Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget named as permanent members of the Board.

Congress charged the Secretary of Commerce to select the remaining 12 members with expertise in one or more of the following areas: knowledge and experience in public safety or emergency response; technical expertise and fluency regarding broadband communications; expertise in building, deploying and operating commercial telecommunications networks; or expertise in financing and funding telecommunications networks.  The law also required the FirstNet Board to include members who have served as public safety professionals; have members who represent the collective interests of states, localities, tribes and territories; and reflect geographical and regional diversity, as well as rural and urban representation.

Several members of the FirstNet Board have current or past ties to local government, including Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald (Story County, Iowa) who is a past president of the National Sheriffs’ Association, an affiliate member of the National Association of Counties.

The Act also required the FirstNet board to establish a standing public safety advisory committee to assist it in carrying out its duties and responsibilities. The FirstNet Board, at its inaugural meeting in September 2012, adopted a resolution designating a subgroup of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s SAFECOM to serve as this advisory committee.

STATE AND LOCAL CONSULTATION:

necessary” to ensure the building, deployment and operation of the network in consultation with federal, state, tribal and local public safety entities. More specifically, the Act requires FirstNet to consult with regional, state, tribal and local jurisdictions about the distribution and expenditures of any amounts required to carry out the network policies that it is charged with establishing, including:

  1. Construction of a core network and any radio access network build out
  2. Placement of towers
  3. Coverage areas of the network, whether at the regional, state, tribal or local level
  4. Adequacy of hardening, security, reliability and resiliency requirements
  5. Assignment of priority of local users
  6. Assignment of priority and selection of entities seeking access to or use of the nationwide public safety interoperable broadband network
  7. Training needs of local users

The Act directs that this consultation should occur between FirstNet and the single officers or governmental bodies designated by each state. These coordination entities will be the coordinators for the funds distributed by NTIA’s State and Local Implementation Grant Program, which helps to support this aspect of the consultation process. The coordinators must be specifically identified in the grant applications.

Moving forward, FirstNet will need to balance its goal to develop nationwide public safety broadband network quickly against the need to conduct meaningful consultations with the regional, state, local, territorial and tribal jurisdictions.  While the Act provides a basic framework for this process, it does not specify how state and local consultation should occur.

Involving the states, local and tribal jurisdictions early in the consultation process is critical to FirstNet’s ultimate success. These intergovernmental partners will not merely be the end users and consumers of FirstNet’s services, but they can offer valuable input into the process to help ensure its success. They have a wealth of knowledge that FirstNet should leverage, including expert knowledge of specific topography and coverage issues within their state and local communities, public safety user density information and existing broadband infrastructure. 

Additionally, they have significant experience in large, complex government procurements which should help FirstNet build out the network efficiently. 

KEY TALKING POINTS:

  • The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 (P.L. 112-96), which mandated the creation of a nationwide interoperable wireless broadband network that will enable police, firefighters, emergency medical service professionals and other public safety officials to more effectively communicate with each other during emergencies and use new technology to improve response time, keep communities safe and save lives.
  • Moving forward, FirstNet will need to balance its goal to develop nationwide public safety broadband network quickly against the need to conduct meaningful consultations with the regional, state, local, territorial and tribal jurisdictions.  While the Act provides a basic framework for this process, it does not specify how state and local consultation should occur.
  • Involving the states, local and tribal jurisdictions early in the consultation process is critical to FirstNet’s ultimate success. These intergovernmental partners will not merely be the end users and consumers of FirstNet’s services, but they can offer valuable input into the process to help ensure its success.
  • Counties should continue to engage with their state’s designated Single Point of Contact (SPOC) for FirstNet to provide information on critical factors to be considered regarding the continued development and implementation of the nationwide public safety broadband network (NPSBN).

For further information, contact: Jacob Terrell at 202.942.4236 or jterrell@naco.org