NTIA Seeks Comment on Public Safety Network

FCC Commissioners Have Already Raised Issues, Concerns

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration has issued a notice of inquiry seeking comment on how it should set up FirstNet, a nationwide, interoperable public safety broadband network.

That comes just one business day after the FCC sought comment on how it should structure the spectrum incentive auctions that will pay for setting up and operating FirstNet.

The two newest FCC commissioners, Jessica Rosenworcel and Ajit Pai, have already provided some input on the dovetailing of those two efforts.

At the FCC's public meeting last week, Rosenworcel said: "The auction revenues the Commission raises are designated to support the first nationwide, interoperable, wireless broadband public safety network.... We cannot divorce the choices this agency makes in developing these auctions from the broader purposes in this legislation and the public safety needs of the American people."

As a top telecom advisor to the Senate Commerce Committee, Rosenworcel worked on the language of legislation establishing the emergency broadband net.

Pai raised a concern about raising the money to pay for the network. He is concerned that the way the FCC is proposing the forward auction -- the one in which broadcast spectrum is sold to the highest, presumably wireless, bidder -- does not guarantee it will cover anything beyond paying off the broadcasters who offered up spectrum in the reverse auction and covering administrative costs and reimbursements.

"This is essentially like ending a traditional auction as soon as the reserve price is met," Pai said. "In other words, the NPRM envisions an auction with no net revenues. This means no money for the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) to build out a nationwide, interoperable public safety broadband network."

NTIA has given the public until Nov. 1 to weigh in on the "conceptual architecture" of the network outlined in the first FirstNet board of directors meeting Sept. 25, as well as on a business plan and developing applications for public safety users. Comments can be e-mailed to firstnetnoi@ntia.doc.gov.