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States stagger toward cooperation on FirstNet project

State governments are showing a wide range of readiness for  how they plan to connect to and partner with other agencies on the nascent FirstNet project, a nationwide broadband network designed for public safety communications.

A report based on a survey of state CIOs by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) shows states are in widely different stages of bootstrapping the network.

Almost a quarter of states have not gotten involved in active planning, while more than half the states are already collecting data they plan to use in their planning efforts.

FirstNet is an effort to build a nationwide network to provide emergency first responders a standard set of advanced wireless broadband tools to “help save lives, solve crimes and keep our communities safe from harm,” according to NASCIO,

According to the survey about 70 percent of the respondents either had developed a governance model or had started planning activities with other in-state organizations. Only about 10 percent had applied for an available implementation grant.

NASCIO described the project as a “herculean effort … perhaps the largest national infrastructure project since the interstate highway system.” Efforts to create a sustainable business plan for project is “perhaps equally daunting,” the association added.

One thing they do agree on, however, is the amount of inter-jurisdictional collaboration and cooperation it’s going to take.

“FirstNet is a major intergovernmental undertaking, with the need for states to do budgeting forecasts, infrastructure and technology planning and education and outreach to potential users,” said David Cagigal, NASCIO’s broadband committee chair and Wisconsin’s CIO.

“How states approach this problem will have a significant bearing on whether we end up with a successful, sustainable model for this major national endeavor,” he added.

The NASCIO survey found that about half of those surveyed said they were already collecting data necessary for planning for rolling out the broadband network in their respective states. Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin in particular have been working together to collect common data in anticipation of some level of regional cooperation.

The states have a natural history of working together during emergencies, the report pointed out.

Ohio CIO Stuart Davis has created a template for states to build a profile of their existing Land Mobile Radio System (LMRS), which provides voice communication to first responders, and other assets that could be important to building a nationwide public safety broadband network.

NASCIO said the tool and others like it could, “spark a regional conversation that may lead to a clear business case – or, for that matter, significant concerns. Ultimately, it should inform both state and FirstNet investment and deployment in the region.”

The bottom line? “Some states are focused intensely on becoming organized and raising awareness internally, while others are focusing on interstate and regional solutions,” according to the NASCIO analysis.

“NASCIO believes this means FirstNet will need to be flexible in its work with the states, said the association, which added that “there will need to be significant discussion and negotiation before a final shared vision exists.”

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