Federal Communications Commission

Bringing Nationwide Interoperable Communications to America's First Responders

April 23rd, 2010 by Jennifer Manner - Deputy Bureau Chief, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau

One of the most pressing recommendations of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan is the proposed creation of a nationwide interoperable public safety broadband wireless network (“public safety broadband network”) for first responders and other public safety personnel.   One major strategy for developing this ambitious and critically overdue component of our emergency communications infrastructure is establishing the rational basis for public funding to ensure the network is deployed throughout the United States and has necessary performance, capacity, coverage, resiliency and redundancy.

This broader strategy lays out a strong roadmap towards achieving the public safety network. Today, FCC staff issued a white paper that explains the comprehensive analysis and sets forth how public safety agencies can leverage the deployment of 4G commercial wireless networks to greatly reduce the overall costs of constructing their nationwide broadband network.  The paper also provides a basis for public funding of the construction, operating and evolution costs of the public safety broadband network. It illustrates the network’s affordability for the nation to build and for public safety to operate with technology that works today and provides for future technological advances.  

In this analysis, we considered the complexity and scope of constructing a nationwide stand-alone public safety network, in which 80% of the 44,800 sites would be new builds. We quickly concluded that the price tag for this new, stand-alone network would be cost prohibitive and the sticker shock could potentially thwart investment into the development of this critical infrastructure. We developed an alternative, more cost-effective solution that sacrifices nothing in terms of meeting the unique requirements of public safety, but also simply makes good fiscal sense.

Through the proposed incentive-based partnership approach, our cost model found that approximately $6.5 billion in construction funding will be required over a 10-year period to provide this service to agencies that collectively serve 99% of all Americans compared to $15.7 billion in construction cost for a stand-alone public safety network. That’s over $9 billion in savings in a time where every dollar counts. This savings is largely found in building upon the billions that have already been invested or are being invested by commercial service providers, leveraging existing infrastructure and economies of scale. Examples of the types of economies gained include adding a new radio access network for public safety to an existing tower or site, which already has backhaul to a functioning core network, and zoning and site acquisition instead of building entirely new towers for a stand-alone public safety network.

For operational expenses, the NBP suggests a public funding method, such as imposing a minimal public safety fee on all broadband users to fund the network’s ongoing costs, and appropriate network improvement costs. Once the network development matures, the cost of funding network operations is approximately $1.3 billion per year by the 10th year of construction. By leveraging what is already being built the cost per cell site is dramatically reduced in both construction expenses and operating expenses. Conservatively, the stand-alone network would require at least 2.5 times higher construction costs, excluding deployable equipment, and proportionally even more in ongoing costs based on Sprint-Nextel and Verizon Wireless annual reports for 2009 that found operating expenses are approximately twice construction expenses.

We have preserved many options for public safety agencies to design and pursue their own public safety broadband networks, but the cost model is predicated on the most cost-effective approach, which is this incentive-based partnership approach.  If public safety agencies decide to use another approach, it may cost more.  This incentive-based funding approach is just another example found in the National Broadband Plan that you can be both innovative and pragmatic; invest in what is necessary without breaking the bank.

It is important to note that this is the only comprehensive cost model that has been put forward for a nationwide, interoperable network, one that has been accomplished with a great deal of rigor.  The nation should be cautious about pursuing any other concept that has not been subjected to the same rigor.  We can all agree that there is no greater investment than in the safety of the American people, and this is the time for investment in a public safety broadband network.

3 Responses to “Bringing Nationwide Interoperable Communications to America's First Responders”

  1. Guest says:

    Would the usage tax/fee to which you refer be levied against ALL ISPs/Internet users, or just those who sign up for this broadband program? Will this plan, in general, attempt to regulate/tax/and otherwise control the Internet in this country? I would rather have that first responder network fee tacked on to what I currently pay for my cell phone and Internet, rather than have the government attempt to regulate something that defies regulation.

  2. Guest says:

    Review of the OBI Technical Paper A Broadband Network Cost Model shows some due diligence was paid to the cost of equipment that would be required for the network. I failed to see any provision had been made in the CAPEX estimates for the labor to build or install the equipment listed in the various appendices. Aren't construction costs part of the capital expenditures required or does this equipment magically appear fully assembled and ready for use on a divinely prepared location?

  3. Jennifer says:

    Just to follow up on both.

    First, with regard to the second question, we have a 40% line item on engineering and installation that covered this.

    Second, the fee that is mentioned, if Congress chose to enact it, could apply across all broadband users. The fee would simply be used to help fund the operation of a public safety broadband wireless network that is nationwide and interoperable.

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