Outlined in the standards is a national public safety broadband system based upon the technology that commercial carriers are aligned with: Long Term Evolution (LTE). The alignment with commercial standards should allow common development of equipment and applications, lowering the traditionally high cost of public safety communications equipment. The system would utilize spectrum set aside for this purpose, including the “D‐Block” that has generated so much attention over the past two years. The design, buildout, and management of the system would be the responsibility of an entity organized under the US Department of Commerce and the National Telecommunications and Information Agency (NTIA) designated as FirstNet. FirstNet will be managed by a board of directors from the ranks of federal, state, and local government along with industry representation. 

Based on Standards

3GPP Long Term Evolution (LTE) is a standard for wireless communication of high-speed data. It is based upon GSM/EDGE and UMTS/HSPA network technologies. The standard is maintained as a project of the 3GPP, operating under a name trademarked by one of the associations within the partnership, the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI). (the mandatory use of Long Term Evolution (“LTE”) as an air interface, while recognizing that this standard is not yet fully developed).

The goal of LTE is to increase the capacity and speed of wireless data networks utilizing cutting-edge hardware and DSP techniques that have recently been developed. Its wireless interface is incompatible with 2G and 3G networks, and so it must be operated on separate wireless spectrum.

The main advantages with LTE are high throughput, low latency, plug and play, in the same platform, an improved end-user experience and a simple architecture resulting in low operating costs. LTE also supports seamless passing to cell towers with older network technology such as GSM, cdmaOne, UMTS, and CDMA2000.

Nationwide Design

The focus of this system is national. States will be required to adopt the standards set by FirstNet. FirstNet controls the 700 MHz spectrum. The only opt‐out available for states is to generate a statewide plan that meets all of the national plan requirements. States would then need to construct and manage the system, maintain connectivity with the national system core, and ensure that all updates and system improvements are in line with the national standard.


FirstNet Legislative Timeline

Projected Timeline

Grant Opportunity

The Act requires NTIA to establish an implementation grant program for the states. The implementation grant program must assist state, regional, tribal, and local jurisdictions to identify and plan the most effective way to utilize and integrate the infrastructure, equipment, and other architecture associated with the NPSBN. NTIA, in consultation with FirstNet, must establish grant program requirements, including, defining eligible costs, determining scope of eligible activities, and prioritizing grants for activities that ensure coverage in rural as well as urban areas.

The Act also establishes the Public Safety Trust Fund to direct funding from voluntary incentive spectrum auctions for the following priorities:

  1. State and Local Implementation Grant Fund
    1. The Act establishes a grant program to assist State, regional, tribal, and local jurisdictions with identifying, planning, and implementing the most efficient and effective means to use and integrate the infrastructure, equipment, and other architecture associated with the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network to satisfy the wireless and data services needs of their jurisdiction. Up to $135 million will be available to NTIA for the State and Local Implementation grant program. NTIA must establish requirements for this program not later than six months after the date of enactment (i.e., August 22, 2012).

  2. Network Construction Fund
    1. There has been $7b earmarked for this project, which is predicted to only be a fraction of the total cost associated with this program. This cost factors in the utilization of the extensive tower and telecommunications transport network that the state owns and maintains. Some infrastructure cost may be offset by the provision allowing FirstNet to contract with commercial carriers for these services.

    2. For the states, the legislation calls for a 20% match by the state for build‐out costs within the borders of that jurisdiction. These costs will not be known until a national design is completed, and the design and cost for that design are delivered to the Governor or designee.