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FirstNet logo over picture of money

 

Two of the other most frequent questions our office receives about FirstNet and the National Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN), is “How much is it going to cost?” and “Who’s going to pay for it?”

How much is the NPSBN going to cost to build?

Billions, but no one knows exactly how much. When Congress created FirstNet, it authorized up to $7 billion dollars to fund the network. Most industry analysts believe that is nowhere near enough money to roll out a nationwide, wireless data network.

To supplement that initial investment, the network will be funded in part by user fees and agreements allowing non-public safety users to use the network when it is not needed by public safety. In other words, other people (in addition to public safety) will use this spectrum and will also pay monthly fees for data access. In many instances, these users may not even know that they are using Band 14, the dedicated public safety wireless spectrum.

In an emergency or during a large event, these non-public safety users may be preempted and moved to a commercial bandwidth, freeing up more spectrum for public safety users. Again, these other users may not know that this is happening. Their use of the network, though, will be a significant revenue source for funding the build out and maintenance of the network.

Finally, FirstNet has indicated that local and state governments will not be responsible for any of the costs of the deployment of the network, unless the State opts out of the FirstNet plan for that State (we’ll cover “opting out” in a future blog posting).

So, how much is it going to cost Massachusetts public safety to use?

Concerning costs to users of the network, we do not know yet, but we expect monthly service fees to be in line with what public safety organizations currently pay. FirstNet has articulated a tenet “to offer services that meet the needs of public safety at a cost that’s competitive and compelling to users.” There is no mandate to use the network, so FirstNet services need to be cost-competitive with private data carriers like AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless to win the business of police, fire, EMS, and others. In the FirstNet RFP to select its deployment partner, FirstNet requests bidders to provide a series of pooled data pricing plans from which public safety organizations will be able to choose.

Our office has submitted the statewide rates that most municipalities and state agencies pay for these wireless data services today. Our expectation is that the FirstNet rates will be in line with those existing rates, even though FirstNet intends to provide additional benefits like priority and preemption, improved resiliency and redundancy, expanded coverage, and enhanced security.

And who is going to pay for it?

As for who will pay for the service, it will be the same as today. FirstNet is going to act like a new national carrier that only provides service to public safety users. Public safety organizations wanting to switch to FirstNet will get new Band 14-capable devices like smartphones from FirstNet and its partner and sign up for a data plan (similar to what you would do today if you switched carriers). You (or your city or town) will pay FirstNet instead of your current carrier each month.

Let us know your questions.

If you have topics or questions you would like us to address, email us at psbo@state.ma.us. You can find out more about FirstNet and the NPSBN on our web site at mass.gov/psbo.

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