FirstNet board sets nearly $6.6B budget as contract award nears

The group overseeing the construction of a nationwide broadband network for first responders is getting its finances in order for the new fiscal year.

The group working to build a nationwide broadband network for first responders just set a budget of nearly $6.6 billion for the coming fiscal year to help fund the award of a hefty contract to a private provider that will work to build the new network.

The governing board of the First Responder Network Authority, commonly known as FirstNet, approved the new budget for fiscal year 2017 Friday. The group plans to spend $85 million to support its regular operations in the new year, with the remaining $6.5 billion allocated for funding the contract award — FirstNet put out a request for proposals in January, and plans to name a winner in November.

The budget “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,” FirstNet Board Chair Sue Swenson said in a statement.

The new budget represents a substantial jump from the group’s $126 million spending limit from the last fiscal year. But with FirstNet now nearly ready to start the lengthy process of building the network, the group can now start to put the bulk of the $7 billion that Congress allocated for the project in 2012 to use.


[Read more: Police experts: The time is now to prepare for FirstNet]

In a release, FirstNet wrote that the $6.5 billion will be “obligated towards the contract and associated task orders, once awarded” and the group “intends to pay that amount over the course of the contract as the partner achieves committed network deployment and operational milestones.”

“The Board’s actions today ensure we are prepared to support our partner(s) on day one and deliver for public safety,” FirstNet Chief Executive Officer Mike Poth said in a statement. “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. 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.”

Indeed, the remainder of the new budget will largely help fund the group’s efforts to draw up plans outlining how FirstNet and its private partners hope to build out service in each state. Each governor will then get the chance to review those plans before work begins, and have the option to opt out of FirstNet’s efforts and build their own state system that can work with the nationwide network.

In a presentation to the board Friday, FirstNet’s staff laid out a timeline for that process — they’re hoping to deliver draft versions of state plans to governors between Jan. 1 and March 31, before releasing the final plans between April 1 and June 30.


The National Telecommunications and Information Administration also started accepting comments on a draft version of guidelines states will have to follow to opt out of the process last month (and extended the deadline for the comment period Wednesday to Sept. 7). The Federal Communications Commission issued its own “notice of proposed rulemaking” on the state opt-process Friday. 

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