The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) made significant strides with federal lawmakers at last week’s subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill.  FirstNet, created in the wake of 9/11,  builds, operates and maintains the first high-speed, nationwide wireless broadband network dedicated to public safety. Last Tuesday’s hearing revealed that what once looked like a questionable federally funded program without the finances for long-term survival may now be stable enough to be an independent organization.

FirstNet has one mission: to enhance broadband and communication technology for the public safety community to effectively respond to a crisis. FirstNet acting Executive Director TJ Kennedy assured federal lawmakers that the network’s current focus is on consultation, acquisition and using feedback received from state, local and tribal entities to ensure the final RFP roll out is issued by the end of the year or early 2016.

Mr. Kennedy informed members of the subcommittee that initial state consultations have been completed for 34 of the 56 states and territories and the figure should increase to 49 by the end of September. An initial consultation meeting with all 56 states and territories should be conducted by the end of the year. In addition, FirstNet expects to provide Governors with state plans in late 2016 or early 2017 at which time Governors will decide whether they want to pursue the opt-out alternative. States that opt-out have the option to construct the network themselves rather than leave the task to the federal government. In addition, FirstNet plans to begin making RFP deployment awards in 2017, with operations most likely beginning in 2018. Rural build-out milestones are included in each of the five deployment phases in 20% increments. At the end of the five-year plan, coverage should be provided to rural areas.

FirstNet will become the most monumental federal law enforcement communications program in history. The network will provide a single interoperable platform for emergency and daily public safety communications to millions of organizations and individuals that respond to these emergencies at the local, state, tribal and federal levels. It is critical the partnership continues between the federal government and these communities so those who need this network are granted the public safety components necessary to ensure the security of their communities.