FirstNet Board approves $6.5B budget package

The FirstNet Board approved a major budget package today, which at $6.585 billion would support a wide swath of developments targeted for Fiscal Year 2017.

In addition to $85 million for FirstNet operations, the budget included $6.5 billion obligated toward supporting a network contract in FY17. FirstNet would contribute up to that amount to enable a public/private partnership in the contract, as well as 20 MHz of low-band spectrum.

“This mission-driven budget reflects our goals for the organization, for the Network, and for public safety,” said FirstNet Chair Sue Swenson in a press release. “It will drive the achievement of major milestones along our Strategic Roadmap in what will be a pivotal year for FirstNet, including critical post-award priorities such as State plans and continued outreach to public safety.”

The development puts FirstNet one step closer to being able to offer a dedicated, high-speed wireless network to first responders like police departments, fire departments or emergency medical services -- technology those in the sector have called for since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, uncovered communications problems among emergency services. 

“There are real needs out there today,” Jay English, a director at APCO International, a nonprofit dedicated to public safety communications, said during a May panel in Washington, according to Nextgov. “Officers are responding – firefighters, medics responding – without information.”

FirstNet approved phase III of its Strategic Roadmap back in March, though at that time, money put aside for the program had not yet been obligated for the following financial year.

Critics have targeted FirstNet's rollout in recent months. Even though the program's milestones have generally fallen along its original roadmap, FirstNet's lengthy development process has led some critics to take a fiercely pessimistic outlook about it, describing it as a “boondoggle” and “already obsolete.”

“This budget also provides us with the flexibility we will need to operationalize, deliver 56 individual State plans, and enable public safety adoption of the Network,” argued FirstNet CEO Mike Poth in the release. “We look forward to having a contract in place and working with our partner to firm up the targeted milestones we outlined today, including the delivery of draft and final State plans.”

FirstNet, or the First Responder Network Authority, was one outcome of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act, which President Obama signed into law Feb. 22, 2012. That law tasked FirstNet with building, operating and maintaining a national high-speed public safety network for first responders.

For more:
- see this press release
- read this Nextgov post
- see this Atlantic critique of the program

Related articles:
Wells Fargo analysts: Don't forget the wildcard that is FirstNet
FirstNet extends deadline for proposals to May 31
FirstNet still on track to award contract by November

This article was updated Sept. 9 to correct the funding timeline of FirstNet's roadmap.