Governors Resource Center for Emergency Communications

About the Resource Center

The National Governors Association developed the Governors Resource Center for Emergency Communications to provide governors and other senior state officials a one-stop-shop for information they need to make decisions related to enhancing a state’s emergency communications ecosystem. The ecosystem includes three main components—the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN), Land Mobile Radio (LMR), and Next Generation 911 (NG911)—each of which are critical to ensuring better situational awareness, coordination, and decision-making in the event of a public safety crisis

Through the Resource Center, governors can utilize NGA staff expertise in gathering and analyzing information necessary for making informed policy decisions on LMR, NG911, and the NPSBN. The following Frequently Asked Questions provides a foundation for understanding the emergency communications ecosystem and the policy implications governors will need to consider.

For additional information, please contact Michael Garcia.

Frequently Asked Questions

The National Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN)

Through the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, Congress created the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), charged with deploying a nationwide wireless broadband network dedicated to public safety. As envisioned by the 911 Commission, the NPSBN will initially allow first responders to share mission critical data over a secure network that prioritizes their first responders’ usage. The NPSBN will eventually connect all emergency responders, from California to New York, to respond, communicate, and share data with each other.

Under the law, each state must decide whether to “opt in” to FirstNet or to “opt out,” and this decision rests solely with the governor. If a governor decides to opt in, no additional action is required by the state and FirstNet will take sole responsibility for building, operating, and maintaining the radio access networks (RAN) for the NPSBN to operate. If a governor decides to opt out, he or she must create an alternate plan; submit and receive approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA); and build, operate, and maintain the RANs.

FirstNet is obligated under the law to provide each governor a plan for buildout of the NPSBN in the state. Once the governor receives this plan, he or she will have 90 days to decide whether to implement FirstNet’s implementation plan (opt-in) or decide to create their own alternative implementation plan (opt-out).

In December 2017, all 55 governors decided to opt in to FirstNet. FirstNet is now in the process of working with states to deploy the NPSBN. States and locals must now decide to purchase FirstNet devices to access the NPSBN.

The following questions and resources were designed to help governors make an informed decision whether to opt in or opt out.

What is FirstNet and how was it created?

The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 created and appropriated funds for the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) to establish the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN) for the nation’s emergency responders. For FirstNet’s final interpretations of segments of the act, please see this notice.

What is FirstNet’s timeline?

Opt-in/Opt-out timeline

Opt-in Opt-out chart

How is FirstNet funded and how will it be funded in the future?

The Middle Class Tax Relief Act of 2012 appropriated $7 billion to initially deploy the network and will leverage network user subscriber fees, fees from FirstNet’s partners, and fees from opt-out states. For more information, please see the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Authority Regarding FirstNet Fees.

How will FirstNet select a private network provider?

FirstNet selected AT&T as the private sector partner to deploy and maintain the NPBSN

What is the procedure to opt-out of FirstNet?

NGA and NASCIO developed the following guide to assist governors during the critical opt-in or opt-out phase of FirstNet’s deployment.

Considerations for FirstNet Decision


Opt-Out Considerations
Questions to Ask Prior to Any Decision
FCC and NTIA are still finalizing their respective processes for reviewing state alternative plans.

An opt-out state must meet the demonstration requirements described in the Act,* which include both initial and ongoing interoperability; technical capabilities and funding to support the radio access network (RAN); and comparable security, coverage, and quality of service to that of the nationwide network.  In addition, an opt-out state must agree to the specific terms and conditions of and enter into a Spectrum Manager Lease Agreement with FirstNet.

What must the state demonstrate in its alternative RAN plan to ensure it satisfies the material aspects of the FCC, NTIA, and FirstNet reviews? When will NTIA and FCC rulemakings be final? Did the state participate in a notice and comment period?

Will a State Alternative Plan RFP require vendors to update their plans upon receipt of FirstNet’s State Plan?

Will a state RAN Opt-out decision cause significant delays to network deployment within the State?

Overall risk rests on states.

Authorizing legislation states that the “State shall demonstrate” that it has the capabilities to operate and fund state RAN and the “State shall apply to the NTIA to lease spectrum capacity from FirstNet.”

After passing FCC and NTIA reviews, states must enter into spectrum lease with FirstNet before any deployment of the state RAN may occur.

NTIA grant may only cover a portion of the construction phase of the state RAN. NTIA grant likely based on a total of $5.5 billion, which will be divided throughout the 56 states and territories, and can only be used for construction of the state RAN.

What kind of risks can be transferred? Will the State be required to pay if its vendor fails to perform? Will there be upfront and ongoing costs or only costs once deployment begins?

What will FirstNet require in their spectrum lease agreement with the state?  Is the state willing to agree to the terms and conditions of the lease agreement?

At what point will the state have the most negotiating leverage?  Is there any leverage?

If the state progresses to the NTIA review, what kind of grant funds, if any, will the state receive? Will there be a match required? If a match is required, will the legislature have to be involved [e.g. appropriations]?

Have CIO’s been consulted on charge-back financial model, infrastructure, or cybersecurity?

Opt-out revenue must be reinvested in state RAN and nationwide network. No revenue can be diverted to a state’s general fund.

States do not know, at this point, the fees that they will be required to pay as part of RAN deployment, such as a fee for use of elements of the core network, integration costs, upgrade costs, and spectrum costs.

If all revenues must be reinvested into the state RAN and nationwide network, what other benefits exist for the state? Has the alternative plan vendor proven they will be able to exceed costs of the network? How?

Does the state currently utilize AT&T wireless contracts? Will new devices be needed immediately with an alternative vendor’s plan? What about with the FirstNet State Plan? What is the impact to future wireless contracts?

*Act refers to the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act

Disclaimer: This document is informational only and does not reflect a policy position by NGA nor NASCIO.

 Downloadable copy

The Federal Communications Commission issued a proposed rulemaking on opt-out procedures, evaluation criteria, and content and review of state plan elements.

If my state decides to opt out, can the state use excess revenue for non-FirstNet purposes?

According to the Middle Class Tax Relief Act of 2012, “[a]ny revenue gained by the State from such leasing agreement shall be used only for constructing, maintaining, operating, or improving the radio access network of the State.”

Will states be able to see a draft of their state plan?

State plans will be developed by FirstNet and its private vendor and delivered to states online. Draft state plans are not required by the Act, and will not be written by the states, but will be delivered to states for consideration in Spring of 2017.

When FirstNet delivers the state plans, what actions must the governor take?

When FirstNet delivers the state plan to a governor, he or she has 90 days to decide to opt-in or opt-out, or adopt or not adopt FirstNet’s plan. A governor opts-in by formally informing FirstNet of their decision or by doing nothing and letting the 90 day deadline expire. Once the state has opted-in, the state has no further obligations. If a state decides to opt-out, the governor must inform FirstNet within the 90 days of receiving FirstNet’s Plan. Once a governor opts-out, he or she has 180 days to find a private partner to build the RANs in the state and submit an alternative state plan to the FCC. The FCC then has an unspecified amount of time to either approve or disapprove of the state’s plan. If the plan is approved, it is then submitted for the NTIA’s approval in order to receive construction grant funding and lease spectrum. If the FCC or the NTIA disapproves of the plan, then the state is automatically opted-in to FirstNet’s original state plan.

How are some states preparing for build out of the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network?

There are four early build out states involved in the NPSBN. Early build out sites are states and localities that received a Broadband Technologies Opportunity Program grant prior to 2012 to launch a broadband network for public safety officials. From 2012 to 2014, FirstNet made agreements with four BTOP projects and a non-BTOP early builder to provide technical support to these projects and to share any lessons learned with the broader public safety community to enable the successful implementation of FirstNet’s nationwide network deployment. The four states and localities are: Adams County, ColoradoHarris County, TexasNew Jersey, and New Mexico. For more information, please see this document on Early Builders and Pilots.

Does FirstNet have rural benchmarks and will it leverage existing infrastructure?

FirstNet has rural milestones based on their available resources and consultation process, and will utilize existing infrastructure wherever it is economically desirable.

Are there government reports on FirstNet?

The Government Accountability Office, the Department of Commerce’s Office of Inspector General, and the Congressional Research Service have conducted reports on FirstNet.

What recommendations have governors made to Congress to ensure successful buildout of the NPSBN?

Governors Jack Markell and Mary issued a letter to the then Acting Secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce, and issued another letter with Governors Martin O’Malley, and Brian Sandoval to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology on how FirstNet can improve relationships with states.

What has NGA done to advance governors concerns to FirstNet and to prepare governors for the opt-in/opt-out decision?

NGA has issued a letter to FirstNet to enhance engagement with states; testified before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Communications; wrote a letter on the interpretations of the Act; and held a meeting on preparing for broadband, which was followed up with a white paper and an issue brief on steps to prepare for FirstNet.

Have there been congressional hearings and comments on FirstNet?

There have been seven congressional hearings and comments:

21 June 2016: Hearing: FirstNet Oversight: An Update on the Status of the Public Safety Broadband Network


Andrew Katsaros
Assistant Inspector General
Department of Commerce

Arthur Logan
Hawaii Emergency Management Agency

Jeffrey S. McLeod
Homeland Security and Public Safety Division
National Governors Association Center for Best Practices

Michael Poth
First Responder Network Authority

2 February 2016: Hearing: Status of the Public Safety Broadband Network


David Furth
Deputy Chief Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau
Federal Communications Commission

TJ Kennedy
First Responder Network Authority

11 June 2015: Comment: Klobuchar Highlights Ways to Improve Broadband in Comments to Newly Formed Broadband Opportunity Council

11 March 2015 Hearing: Are We Any Closer to A Nationwide Public Safety Wireless Broadband Network?


Bruce Andrews
Deputy Secretary
U.S. Department of Commerce

Mr. Mark Goldstein
Director (Physical Infrastructure),
Government Accountability Office

Ms. Susan Swenson
First Responder Network Authority

Todd Zinser
Inspector General
U.S. Department of Commerce

G. Keith Bryant
President and Chairman of the Board
International Association of Fire Chiefs

9 October 2014: Comment: A Fresh Technology Agenda for Growth, Innovation, and Opportunity

14 May 2014: Letter to Chairman Wheeler of the Federal Communications Commission

21 November 2013: Hearing: Oversight of FirstNet and the Advancement of Public Safety Wireless Communications


Sam Ginn
First Responder Network Authority

David Turetsky
Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau
Federal Communications Commission

Stu Davis
State Chief Information Officer
Assistant Director
Ohio Department of Administrator Services

Dennis M. Martinez
Chief Technology Officer
RF Communications Division
Harris Corporation

Next Generation 911

What does NG911 refer to?

NG911 is an Internet Protocol (IP)-based system that allows digital information (e.g., voice, photos, videos, text messages) to flow seamlessly from the public, through the 911 network, and on to emergency responders. [1]

What capabilities will it offer over current 911 systems?

NG911 will allow an individual to safely reach emergency responders by texting, sending a video, or photo, if they are unable to talk on the phone. This will greatly assist individuals who are in a domestic abuse situation, in an active shooter scenario, or in any other situation where talking on the phone would compromise their physical and/or emotional well-being. Additionally, a statewide ESInet will transfer calls to a nearby PSAP if the current PSAP reaches capacity, therefore ensuring that all calls are received.

What obligations, if any, do governors have in supporting NG911 capabilities across the state?

Governors currently do not have any obligations to support NG911 capabilities across the state. Nonetheless, supporting NG911 will enhance first responders effectiveness by increasing the amount of information that can be shared between the caller and the PSAP, as well ensure that a caller can reach a PSAP no matter where they are. Moreover, with PSAPs becoming targets of denial of service attacks, governors must protect their dispatch centers and ensure that calls can be relocated to a nearby PSAP in the event of a cyber attack.

Land Mobile Radio

What are LMRs?

Radios that are designed to meet emergency responders’ unique mission critical requirements and support time-sensitive, lifesaving tasks, including rapid voice call-setup, group calling capabilities, high-quality audio, and guaranteed priority access to the end-user. [2]

Why are they important and will the NPSBN replace LMR systems?

LMR systems will remain the primary tool for mission critical voice communications for many years to come; in fact, for many public safety agencies, maintaining their LMR systems and improving operability and interoperability continue to be their top communications priorities. The initial roll out of the NPSBN will only allow for the transfer of mission critical data and not voice. It may take several years before NPSBN becomes the primary source for mission critical voice communications.