National Telecommunications and Information Administration head Lawrence Strickling announced a plan on Monday to solicit comments about the planned national, interoperable wireless broadband network for law enforcement and first responders.
The request for information is the first step toward the distribution of $135 million in grants to state, local and tribal governments that will cover the planning of the nationwide network, called FirstNet. Specifically, the RFI will seek information on existing infrastructure that might be deployed on behalf of the effort, including cellular towers and backhaul networks. Comments are due in 30 days.
The move is necessary because the legislation authorizing FirstNet requires the use of existing commercial communications infrastructure in the development of the network.
Strickling also announced that last Friday, the NTIA had partially suspended $380 million in Recovery Act grants related to public safety communications. "Proceeeding when FirstNet has not even met, much less made, any decisions about the national design puts at risk the millions of taxpayer dollars that are funding these projects," Strickling said.
In his remarks at the National Broadband Summit and Expo, Strickling also stressed the need for FirstNet to operate on a break-even basis. Federal funding to establish the network is capped at $7 billion. Participating law enforcement entities will have to pay user fees to FirstNet. States are permitted to opt out, but they have to clear a few hurdles, including demonstrating interoperability with FirstNet.
FirstNet is set to stand up August 20. Before then, the NTIA has to oversee the naming of a 15-member board of directors, a task Strickling compared to “solving a multidimensional jigsaw puzzle,” because of the need for diversity in terms of geography and professional expertise.