BOSTON — The Baker administration is reviewing a plan that would connect Massachusetts to a new federal wireless public safety communications network and will likely have to decide by the end of the year whether to opt into the federal program or establish its own way to access the nationwide network that is designed to reduce response times during emergencies.
FirstNet, also known as the National Public Safety Broadband Network, is envisioned as the first high-speed wireless, broadband data network dedicated for use by public safety agencies.
Congress established it in 2012 and the board that oversees the effort expects the system will be ready to serve 60,000 public safety agencies, 3,144 counties and 567 federally recognized tribes by 2022.
FirstNet is developing an individual plan for the buildout of the system in each state. The governor of each state then has to decide whether to opt into the FirstNet plan or opt out and implement a state-developed plan to access the National Public Safety Broadband Network.
Massachusetts received its state plan on Sept. 19, a spokesman for the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security said, but is still waiting for one final document from FirstNet. As soon as that last document arrives, Gov. Charlie Baker will have 90 days to decide if Massachusetts will go along with the federal plan or develop its own.
“We’ve made no decision as to whether to opt in or opt out,” Felix Browne, the EOPSS spokesman, said in an email.
The Massachusetts state plan that Baker is reviewing in conjunction with a multidisciplinary team is not available to the public or the press because it is not a public record, Browne told the News Service.
To help Baker review the FirstNet plan, EOPSS established a 17-member interagency Massachusetts FirstNet Advisory Board, which includes representatives from state police, the state fire marshal’s office, local law enforcement, information technology experts and public health officials.
Officials from FirstNet and AT&T — which was awarded the contract to build the broadband network — traveled to Boston in April to meet with Baker and Secretary of Public Safety Daniel Bennett to “help inform and support” the governor’s upcoming decision, officials said.
So far, 21 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have opted into the FirstNet system and none have elected to opt out, according to FirstNet.
Massachusetts is at least looking into the possibility of opting out.
In May, the Commonwealth Public Safety Broadband Office — established specifically to coordinate with FirstNet — published a request for responses for a vendor to provide Baker with “a fully comparable, viable, alternative plan to be considered concurrently with the FirstNet State Plan for Massachusetts.”
If Massachusetts elects to opt out, it must obtain approval from the Federal Communications Commission and negotiate a spectrum sublease agreement with FirstNet. Opt-out states must also complete a procurement to implement the network within 180 days of opting out, and could seek funding from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.
The FirstNet system was devised after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks to fulfill the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission that there be interoperable communications for all U.S. first responders. FirstNet says the cost of the service has not yet been set.
“Just as smartphones have changed our personal lives, FirstNet devices and applications will ultimately change the way public safety operates,” the Commonwealth Public Safety Broadband Office said in a fact sheet about FirstNet. “FirstNet will save time during emergencies when seconds count. FirstNet will save money for states by leveraging nationwide purchasing power and scale economies.”