FirstNet, a $7 billion government initiative to construct a nationwide broadband network for first responders, is on track to be financially self-sufficient by 2022 — so long as it can effectively coax federal agencies into embracing the program.
Last week at VMware’s Public Sector Innovation Summit, an event produced by FedScoop, FirstNet board member Teri Takai called the high speed wireless communications platform the “ultimate public private partnership,” but said that while industry has expressed continued interest in the plan, there is a need to bolster engagement on the “public” side of the fence.
Takai issued a “request and plea” for federal agencies to get more involved, citing the magnitude of many larger departments as a barrier to effective communication from FirstNet.
“It’s hard to know who we should be talking to with the size and scope of the federal agencies,” Takai said. “So please reach out, we need federal participation.”
FirstNet, which released an RFP in January and recently extended its deadline until the end of May, is well on its way to deploying the network by 2020, Takai told FedScoop in an interview. Achieving financial self-sustainment, though, will rely on accruing enough subscribers across the nation’s 60,000 first response agencies to cover overhead costs.
[Read more: RFP for FirstNet’s massive network released]
The initial $7 billion budget was intended as “seed capital,” according to Takai. Since some experts have estimated the cost of the program could balloon up to $20 billion, FirstNet will require first responders to pay a subscription fee, user fees, and additionally to cover the costs of all hardware.
“The $7 billion was seed money… intended to fund getting the public safety broadband network stood up, and to get the entities to come onboard and start to use it,” Takai said. “We have a commitment to keep overhead at minimum. We’re focused on ensuring every dollar isn’t spent on administrative costs but actually goes back into the network.”
With collaboration from a private sector partner, which FirstNet hopes to name by the end of the year from among those who respond to the RFP, Takai is confident that the network will act as a major asset for public safety and emergency services.
“FirstNet is happening,” she said. “This is real. This is something that is going to be precedent-setting.”