The Wireless Innovation and Infrastructure Initiative authorized the development and deployment of a Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network for use by emergency responders throughout the country, using the 700 MHz “D Block”, and the adjoining narrowband block.
The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), is the body inside the NTIA in charge of designing and running the network. It will seek an FCC license for the 20 MHz of broadband spectrum and have the SAFECOM executive board serve as the public-safety advisory committee to FirstNet.
FirstNet Chairman Sam Ginn, at their first meeting on September 25, expressed the need for the 15-member board to continue to solicit input from public-safety users about the functionality that the much-anticipated 700 MHz LTE network for first responders should include. Ginn also conveyed a philosophy that he wants the board to proceed with the project as quickly as possible.
First responders now essentially “own” 20 MHz of broadband spectrum as well as 12 MHz of narrowband (voice) spectrum in the 700 MHz spectrum. That’s more than the 20 MHz Verizon and AT&T both have on 700 MHz.
First responders also got (free) 10 MHz of 800 MHz from Nextel, when they were forced to move to different frequencies due to interference with 800 MHz police radios. That totals more than twice as much spectrum as AT&T or Verizon – not even counting 800 MHz voice frequencies.
Building “nationwide” coverage from scratch, with towers, basestations, backhaul, the expertise, and hundreds of thousands of $5,000 broadband radios is a tall order.
It will require about 19,000 cells and cost about $9.5 billion to deploy and $1.5 billion annually to operate and maintain (pdf), according to Jon Peha, who does analysis for the FCC. The $27.8 billion raised from auctioning airwaves may not be enough. Infrastructure costs on a dedicated first responder system and the $5,000 radios for 1.1 million state and local responders, could push costs past $30B, say some analysts.
Bottom line: total cost may be upwards of $20 billion, on a budget of $10 billion. Urban areas will benefit, while rural areas will be left behind. First responders might pay less than the $20-30/month they currently pay commercial operators, but the cost for providing FirstNet coverage in rural areas could be the equivalent of hundreds of dollars a month per user.
It’s not going to happen in rural areas. That means everyone gets a dual-band radio (and pays a cellular bill) anyway.
A more vexing issue may be the jurisdictional disputes between city police, state police, fire, medical, sheriff, forestry, state highway, feds, city and county entities who all want access to the new network. If it costs less than $50/month for 2GB, then somebody ought to check their arithmetic.
Republicans wanted this big government, high-cost project, and eventually got most of the Democrats, including the Obama administration, to go along with it. Democrats preferred an approach that leased space on commercial carriers and used the money to pay off the national debt. It was an unusual stance for both parties.
In ten years, perhaps Sprint Nextel will buy and run the entity for the government.
Related stories on DailyWireless include; APCO 2012: Public Service Radio Goes LTE, FCC Kills Narrowbanding Deadline, Public Service Gives Up 470-512 Mhz, D-Block: Back to Congress, AT&T and Verizon: No 700 MHz Interoperability For You!, D-Block Legislation Stalled, Seybold: Furgetabout Video on LTE Public Safety Band, Broadband Disability Act, Public Service Radio Convention, Public Safety Net Removed from Debt Ceiling Bill, The D-Block Gamble, D-Block Gets a Hearing, National Wireless Initiative, White House: D-Block to Police/Fire,