The US Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 (“the Act”), among many other provisions, created FirstNet, an independent Federal authority within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). FirstNet is chartered with building a nationwide, public safety broadband network—a high-speed broadband cellular data network, coast-to-coast, built specifically for public safety. FirstNet is required to build the network in consultation with the states to make sure that the network meets public safety’s needs.
Why not use commercial cellular data networks?
This network is needed because while first responders use cellular data every day, they can’t depend on it in emergencies. For example, during the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing there were widespread reports that authorities had shut down public cellular networks because nobody could get through. In fact, the networks were simply overloaded. Just as civilians could not connect—neither could first responders. Everybody was shut out. FirstNet will provide first responders with a separate data network so that even while networks are overloaded they will have essential data connections with their networks.
What is the consultation process?
The consultation process is a formal engagement between state and federal government to develop requirements to build the network. FirstNet is required to consult with all 56 US states and territories, including Ohio. The consultation process is Ohio’s opportunity to tell FirstNet exactly what level of service it requires of the network, which features Ohio’s responder community needs and what the state’s interoperability requirements are.
FirstNet Consultation Process diagram. From http://www.firstnet.gov
Under the Act, FirstNet cannot build in a state until it has presented a plan to governor and the governor has approved of the plan. The Governor also has the right to reject FirstNet’s plan and pursue an alternative state plan. This decision is referred to as “opt-in” or “opt-out”. The state of Ohio has not determined whether or not it will be in the state’s best interest to opt-in or opt-out; that decision will not be made until FirstNet has presented the State with a plan.
FirstNet Decision Process diagram. From http://www.firstnet.gov
The state and consultation process in many ways resembles an administrative rulemaking or regulatory action, including public hearings, public proceedings and “town-hall” style meetings in each state. While these formal government activities are labor-intensive and take time, they create a vast public record of interaction between the state and Federal government and provide a very level of transparency into the consultation itself. The consultation process includes, among others, the following formal interactions:
Formal Requests for Information and Public Notices
For example, see docket “Further Proposed Interpretations of Parts of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012”, available here. This is one of several notices where FirstNet seeks public input on its interpretation of its duties and responsibilities under the Act.
Formal Request for Proposals
For example, see “FirstNet's Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN)”, Federal Solicitation # D15PS00295B, available here. In this notice, FirstNet has produced a draft Request for Proposals (RFP) for construction of the network on which it seeks public input prior to publishing a final RFP and hiring a vendor to build the network.
Formal Consultation Meetings
These are town-hall style meetings where FirstNet meets with first responders, state officials and members of the public. FirstNet is holding one of these meetings in every state. Ohio’s meeting was held June 11, 2015. For more information on Ohio’s consultation meeting, including minutes and meeting materials, grab them in our "Publications" section.
When will the network be available?
We at OhioFirst.Net are not certain. FirstNet has published a target start date for construction around 2017, and it is anticipated that FirstNet will present the state with a plan by late 2016 or early 2017. The service will very likely be operational within the next few years, but not any time prior to late 2017 by the earliest. Once Ohio has made a formal opt-in/opt-out decision we will be able to provide clearer timetables.
FirstNet Roadmap diagram. From http://www.firstnet.gov