The Department of Commerce took the first major step in the planning and construction of a public safety communications network Monday morning when Acting U.S. Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank appointed 12 members of the board of directors for the First Responder Network Authority, which—thankfully—is simply being referred to as “FirstNet.”
FirstNet is responsible for overseeing the planning, construction, and maintenance of a nationwide wireless communications network that will provide seamless, high-speed wireless data services and interoperability between first responders. Building a public safety grade, dedicated nationwide wireless data network on the scale of a major carrier like Verizon or AT&T is not a simple or inexpensive task—not to mention one fraught with politics. Guaranteeing both urban and rural coverage (as Congress required in legislation) while keeping federal, state and local costs down is going to take innovative thinking and extraordinary determination by the board of directors.
That said, the board is an impressive list of individuals who are certainly up to the task. The FirstNet board features public safety and local government leaders, as well as private sector telecommunications experts. From a city standpoint, former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb and current New York Police Department Deputy Chief Charles Dowd will be bringing their significant experience in municipal government to the board’s decision-making process.
The strong local perspective these individuals bring to the board is important. The legislation creating the nationwide public safety broadband network relies heavily on a partnership between the states and the federal government. With the vast majority of our country’s first responders being local employees (rather than state or federal personnel), the local perspective Mayor Webb, Chief Dowd, and the rest of the public safety personnel bring to the board will be vital in ensuring a practical network. While virtually all the major negotiations will occur between the state and federal level, local governments are going to ultimately be responsible for deciding whether to—quite literally—buy into the network. If the network does not serve local needs or is too expensive a solution, it serves no one. These board appointments, however, provide some assurances that local first responders will come first.
Stay tuned for more as the board begins to meet and provide hints as to its vision for the network.
After the jump: Local governments moving ahead with the network, grants on the horizon, and more.
Public Safety Communications Speed Read: Last week, Harris County, TX lit up its first 14 sites on the public safety broadband network grid, with Charlotte, NC likely to go live next; other states and locals will need permission from the FirstNet before proceeding. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced they will start providing State and Local Implementation Grants for the network 1Q of 2013; NLC had submitted comments, which were cited in the announcement, on the need for flexible uses of grants and the importance of local government’s role in construction and planning of the network.