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Proposals for Multibillion-Dollar Public Safety Broadband Network FirstNet are In

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The proposal deadline for a nationwide public safety broadband network has closed, and the system could start deploying as soon as next fall.

FirstNet had pushed the deadline for proposals from potential carriers twice, causing speculation that not enough qualified vendors were pursuing the multibillion-dollar, multidecade contract. But now that proposals are in, FirstNet could make an award as soon as November, according to the group.

FirstNet’s eventual goal is for public safety agents to have a robust wireless connection -- spanning all 50 states and six territories -- on which they can use apps, devices and sensors that help them respond to emergencies.

FirstNet president TJ Kennedy told Nextgov last month the project could include a “public safety app store” from which agents can select and download the products that work for them.

“[Y]ou’re going to see individual firefighters or paramedics come up with great ideas other departments are going to buy,” he said. ”It’s going to create this really active public safety ecosystem.”

The winner of the contract would get at least $6.5 billion for the job, but also the right to monetize 20 mHz of spectrum, over the course of an up to 25-year performance period,.

States are expected to issue draft plans for adoption, and their decisions about whether to opt-in to FirstNet’s Radio Access Network, by the spring of next year. Deployment could begin in the fall of 2017, Kennedy said.

Aside from assessing proposals, FirstNet still needs to develop the policy framework for the network and then prepare to partner with the awardee, according to a blog post published Tuesday by FirstNet CEO Mike Poth. Though the group is a public-private collaboration and an independent authority within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, it followed the traditional federal procurement process and therefore can’t discuss the number of proposals or sources, Poth wrote.

The FirstNet project is a "good opportunity," AT&T's senior executive vice president for technology and operations, John Donovan, said at a conference hosted by Citi in Las Vegas last year.

"The timing of the spectrum, the position of the spectrum, the customer opportunity that comes with it -- it's a rare event," he said. "So we're going to pursue it aggressively."

Upgrading communication technology comes with its own challenges, DHS director of the Office of Emergency Communications, Ronald Hewitt, said at a recent conference about public safety broadband in Washington. 

For instance, a new 911 system that would let citizens text law enforcement about incidents could lead to a breakdown of the network, especially if large numbers of people are texting about the same incident at the same time.

Hewitt said that his office was meeting with public safety officials so they could “understand the magnitude” of these challenges. 

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