It’s a busy time at FirstNet, gearing up for the deployment of the nationwide public safety broadband network (NPSBN).  With yesterday’s release of a Federal Funding Opportunity for up to $40 million for the Band 14 Incumbent Spectrum Relocation Grant Program (Grant Program), FirstNet is making headway in fulfilling its mandate under the Middle Class Tax Cut and Job Relief Act of 2012.  The Grant Program will assist public safety entities currently operating in 758 MHz-769 MHz and 788 MHz – 799 MHz, also known as Band 14, to relocate their communications operations to other frequencies allocated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), providing FirstNet with the unencumbered spectrum necessary to deploy the NPSBN.

The FCC issued FirstNet a license for Band 14 to develop, deploy and operate the NPSBN.  At this time, a number of public safety entities around the country operate on the Band 14 frequencies.  To ensure that this spectrum is unencumbered for the successful deployment of the NPSBN, these entities will be required to relocate their communication operations from Band 14 to other frequencies allocated by the FCC.  During yesterday’s FirstNet Board meeting, FirstNet Chief Executive Officer Mike Poth said that the Band 14 incumbent public safety agencies already have plans for how they will relocate; they just need the funding.  FirstNet established the Grant Program to facilitate the relocation and enable these affected public safety entities to continue operations without interruption.  Applications  have until May 16, 2016 to submit an application.

Public safety entities currently occupying Band 14 frequencies will be able to apply for grant funds to cover the costs associated with retuning and reprogramming communications equipment. FirstNet will only consider the procurement of new communications equipment (i.e. radios, vehicle repeaters, fixed site repeaters, antenna combiners) by incumbents if the application clearly demonstrates that the retuning or reprogramming of existing equipment is not cost effective or cannot be achieved due to equipment obsolescence.

Applicants receiving grant funds will be required to establish a project plan, develop and meet key milestones within the 12-month period of performance (likely August 1, 2016 to July 31, 2017), to show progress, and other activities as determined by FirstNet. FirstNet anticipates up to 15 public safety incumbents will be eligible for the award with award amounts varying by estimated project costs.

FirstNet intends to make award decisions by July of this year.