By Lee G. Petro
On February 6, 2013, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) released the ground rules for the initial wave of funding from the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet). The funds are to be used by states and federal territories to assist in the planning, coordination, outreach and data collection efforts to implement the nationwide wireless broadband network authorized by Congress last year.
The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 brought FirstNet into being with the goal of designing and implementing a nationwide wireless broadband network to enable first responders and public safety officials to better communicate with each other during emergency situations. The planning and construction of FirstNet is to be paid for from funds raised by auctioning a portion of the television broadcast spectrum, which is tentatively planned to occur during 2014.
The first step in state planning will be for states and territories to coordinate with FirstNet and to communicate the public safety needs of the individual states, local governments and tribal groups once they are ascertained. Because the implementing legislation adopted last year requires that each state select only one point of contact within each respective state and territory to work with FirstNet, one intended aspect of the State and Local Implementation Grant Program (SLIGP) is to assist in the funding for the initial planning process within the states and territories. Only one entity per state is eligible to apply. The SLIGP funds are intended to be used for the following activities:
- Personnel costs;
- Costs associated with planning meetings with statewide stakeholders;
- Travel costs for state, local, and tribal representatives to attend planning meetings;
- Costs to develop, modify or enhance statewide plans and governance structures;
- Costs for communications, education and outreach activities with state, local, tribal and regional stakeholders;
- Costs to develop standardized Memoranda of Agreement and other types of agreements to facilitate access to and use of existing infrastructure;
- Costs to identify potential public safety users for the public safety broadband network;
- Administrative services costs, equipment costs and supplies necessary to manage the grant program; and
- Reasonable proposal expenses.
Under the program, each state and territory has been allocated a portion of the $121.5 million set aside by FirstNet for this planning phase based on a formula that took into account their respective population and land mass, with Texas and California receiving the largest share of funds ($6 million and $5.8 million respectively), and the territories receiving the least (American Samoa and N. Mariana Islands – $515,000).
FirstNet intends to make two disbursements of the funding. The first is intended to cover the initial planning, consulting and development activities to prepare for state consultations with FirstNet. This includes developing strategy and timelines, and initial outreach to local governments and tribal groups within the respective state. The second disbursement phase will cover the actual data collection efforts taken in coordination with FirstNet to design the nationwide public safety broadband network. While FirstNet will be making funds available, there is a statutory requirement that each state commit to contribute at least 20 percent of the funds to cover the costs associated with these activities.
Applications are available now on the www.grants.gov website and are due no later than March 19, 2013, and awards are anticipated no later than July 15, 2013. Also, FirstNet has posted supporting materials on its website to provide additional guidance - http://www.firstnet.gov/.
Local public safety officials and tribal groups are strongly encouraged to immediately identify and contact their state governments to ensure that they are included as part of the planning process to complete the application and as planning commences.
Please let us know if you have any questions about FirstNet, the planning process, or if we can be of assistance.