With $7 billion allocated, the First Responder Network Authority is drawing plenty of attention from public safety companies.
Since its 2012 creation, FirstNet — the government’s effort to create the first high-speed, nationwide wireless broadband network dedicated to public safety — has come a long way. Just two months ago, FirstNet released initial consultation packages to each state and tribal government, the first step in developing the network.
From here, each of the 56 U.S. states and territories must complete a complicated set of steps, including deciding whether to opt in to FirstNet’s radio access network. States that opt out must develop plans for their own networks within 280 days.
States that go the independent route must have their plans approved by the Federal Communications Commission and FirstNet. The state would then initiate its own solicitation process. States that go this route will be able to apply for grant funding; however, the total amount of funding is not yet known.
According to the FirstNet outreach director Amanda Hilliard, a request for proposals will be issued in early 2015. At that point, states should know how much it will cost to join or opt out.
Vendors hoping to work as a federal contractor or with states on their own piece of the network must begin to develop system plans, despite a lack of clear knowledge about states’ plans. It is too soon to determine how many and which states will opt out of FirstNet, but one thing is clear: Some states will certainly decide to develop their own networks.
After the rollout issues with the Affordable Care state healthcare exchanges, many states may be wary of rolling out their own networks, despite the dissimilarity in systems. This unease may spur many states to join those that can’t afford their own networks to choose the federal system. However, other states that see this as an opportunity to build out a stronger network could go it alone.
Over the next six months, vendors can follow the new FirstNet Web site for updates and state consultation results.
These consultations should be complete by Nov. 30, but states that opt out may begin developing solicitations sooner. Several states, in fact, have already begun building out their own broadband networks. Pennsylvania is currently reviewing vendor proposals, and Minnesota awarded a contract to Televate for its own broadband system.
Unlike other large-scale federal initiatives such as Real ID that have faded under public scrutiny, FirstNet appears to be inching toward reality. Only time will tell how many contracts will be available, but vendors should be excited at the amount of funding available at both the state and federal level for this network.
Evan Halperin is a senior a analyst for justice/public safety and homeland security at Deltek.