As a national public safety broadband network begins to take shape, many state and local governments are looking to the federal government for guidance. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has set aside $135 million in grant money to help municipalities get through the planning stages of the nationwide project.

Born from the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 signed into law by President Obama in February, the NTIA has formed the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) as an independent body that will oversee the administration and development of a nationwide public safety broadband network (PSBN). State and local governments will give their input to FirstNet.

Many governments have been waiting for the development of a standardized, interoperable communications network since the late 1990s, when Congress ordered the FCC to set aside 700 MHz spectrum for public safety. As the PSBN finally comes together, many governments are saying development of a nationwide network is a difficult project given their limited budgets.

When the NTIA asked state and local governments to explain any barriers that would prevent them from cooperating with FirstNet, many cited limited staff and resources, according to narrative posted in the Aug. 21 Federal Register. [See document.]  Grant funding provided by NTIA will help governments work with FirstNet as they collect data on assets and equipment that could be used as part of the PSBN. Many governments also cited the need to explore legal issues surrounding system development.

While two municipalities, Harris County and Charlotte, N.C.,  have met interoperability requirements and have been given the go-ahead by the FCC to begin operating their public safety networks, many others await NTIA standards on data collection to begin the inventory process.

Grants for planning development will be distributed to the 56 states and territories based on a combination of factors that could include the state-recommended factors of population, land mass, geography and topography, risk threat, and expected level of effort. Governments in rural areas voiced concerns that a one-size-fits-all approach to a PSBN funding allocation would marginalize efforts in rural areas due to the unique requirements there. The NTIA said they intend to avoid a pure population-based approach and would take all relevant factors into consideration to ensure rural areas receive fair treatment.

Funding will be available for initial planning, but will not be eligible for construction and development.