House Panel to Probe FirstNet Status

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By Tim McElgunn

Jan. 26 — House lawmakers have scheduled a hearing for Feb. 2 to gauge progress on the buildout of a public safety broadband network for first responders.

The Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology subcommittee is seeking an update on the status of the project, including the request for proposals (RFP) issued on Jan. 14 by the Department of the Interior on behalf of the National Telecommunications & Information Administration.

The RFP lays out the objectives of the so-called First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN), and solicits bids for its construction. Construction will be funded with $7 billion that was mandated to come from the Federal Communications Commission's spectrum auctions and user fees. The initial $7 billion was funded by the AWS-3 spectrum auction that concluded in January 2015.

According to the RFP, FirstNet must create the public safety network within the financial parameters outlined in the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 and ensure its financial sustainability through federal funding, user fees, and agreements with the contractor that will leverage the value of excess network capacity.

The plan to sell excess capacity has caused some communications providers to worry that the network will potentially create competition for their services.

The RFP also states, “FirstNet is seeking a comprehensive network solution covering each of the 56 states and territories. The comprehensive network solution shall provide FirstNet services that include: the deployment and provisioning of a nationwide Core Network (“Core”), and Radio Access Network (RAN) services; backhaul, aggregation, and the use of national transport networks and operation centers; a device ecosystem; use of network infrastructure; deployable capabilities; use of operational and business support systems; an applications ecosystem; network services; and the integration, maintenance, operational services, and ongoing evolution of these systems required to function fully as an operational wireless 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) standards-based Long Term Evolution (LTE) broadband network.”

The subcommittee also plans to examine the FCC's progress on its other duties under the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 with regard to FirstNet's deployment.

“Especially in times of emergency, it is critical that first responders are able to communicate and coordinate for their own safety and to protect families and communities,” subcommittee chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said in a statement announcing the hearing. “We continue to monitor FirstNet's progress toward deploying this nationwide public safety network. Despite a tough start, FirstNet has demonstrated it is moving forward and getting closer to delivering for our nation's first responders.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Tim McElgunn in Cherry Hill, N.J., at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine at