FirstNet responds to integration concerns

The First Responder Network Authority’s first request for proposals was released earlier this year for the interoperable Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network, but concerns linger regarding the program's rural outreach, security and integration plans.

Members of the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology met on Feb. 2 to review the broadband public safety network’s progress with FirstNet President TJ Kennedy and David Furth, the Federal Communication Commission’s deputy chief of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau.

Some committee members had concerns regarding FirstNet’s plans to cover rural areas in the country where network access is already scarce. “We expect rural milestones to be met at every phase of build-out,” Kennedy said, emphasizing that rural infrastructure providers and vendors need to be part of the solution.

“FirstNet responded [to stakeholder comments] by making rural partnerships an evaluation factor in our RFP,” Kennedy said. The RFP is intended to draw in rural telecommunication providers as well as nationwide networks, creating a range of competition that will provide states with the best solution.

In response to concerns over how FirstNet and the FCC will maintain public safety and secure citizen data between devices on the network, Kennedy said that FirstNet’s Public Safety Advisory Committee has been exploring standards and crafting operational objectives.

FirstNet is working with the National Institute of Standards and Technology lab in Colorado on cybersecurity issues, Kennedy said, and the RFP asks vendors for responses regarding private-sector best practices as part of their solution to ensure the network’s security.

“We’ve always envisioned we’d have security from day one,” Kennedy said. “Solutions have to be very usable, very secure…we’re looking at that all the way down to the device level.”

Furth said the FCC also deployed a taskforce working with public safety answering points (PSAP) and Next-Gen 911 environments looking into cybersecurity needs, as some smaller areas may not be adequately prepared to handle major cyberattacks. “That taskforce has come back with recommendations,” Furth said. “We’re going to sync up with FirstNet to make sure cyberattacks won’t be an issue.”

Members also were concerned about the changing role of PSAPs, and Furth said the FCC is encouraging 911 call centers and PSAPs to get involved with the FirstNet process. According to Furth, FirstNet has hired a Next-gen 911 specialist to work with the FCC to help on the transition. “We’re looking at how to configure those PSAPs with next-generation technology and cybersecurity,” he said.

Once the contract is awarded, Kennedy said, FirstNet will provide each state a plan for network build out. Alternatively, governors can submit a plan to the FCC for approval explaining how their states will deploy and operate their own interoperable radio access network under FCC requirements.

The anticipation of the opt-out process and FCC’s timeline for rulemaking on opt-outs has some members on edge, but Furth said “it would have been difficult to initiate this rulemaking before this RFP was released by FirstNet.”

Ultimately, FirstNet went with the objective-based approach to find an all-inclusive solution. “We’re not telling them how to respond, we’re telling them to do the best that they can to meet those objectives in a cost effective and sustainable way,” Kennedy said.

RFP responses are due by the end of April, and FirstNet anticipates making an award in the fourth quarter of 2016. According to Kennedy, deployment of the network could begin as early as late 2017.

About the Author

Amanda Ziadeh is a former reporter/producer for GCN.


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