Various Challenges Likely to Slow Implementation of a Public Safety Broadband Network

Coverage Type: research
Government Accountability Office (GAO), 441 G St., NW, Washington, DC, 20548, United States

There are several challenges to implementing a public safety broadband network, including ensuring the network’s interoperability, reliability, and security; obtaining adequate funds to build and maintain it; and creating a governance structure.

For example, to avoid a major shortcoming of the land mobile radio (LMR) systems, it is essential that a public safety broadband network be interoperable across jurisdictions and devices by following five key elements to interoperable networks: governance, standard operating procedures, technology, training, and usage. With respect to creating a governance structure, pending legislation—the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, among other things—establishes a new entity, the First Responder Network Authority, with responsibility for ensuring the establishment of a nationwide, interoperable public safety broadband network.

The price of handheld LMR devices is high—often thousands of dollars—in part because market competition is limited and manufacturing costs are high. Further, GAO found that public safety agencies cannot exert buying power in relationship to device manufacturers, which may result in the agencies overpaying for LMR devices. In particular, because public safety agencies contract for LMR devices independently from one another, they are not in a strong position to negotiate lower prices and forego the quantity discounts that accompany larger orders. For similar situations, GAO has recommended joint procurement as a cost saving measure because it allows agencies requiring similar products to combine their purchase power and lower their procurement costs. Given that DHS has experience in emergency communications and relationships with public safety agencies, it is well-suited to facilitate joint procurement of handheld LMR devices. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) should work with partners to identify and communicate opportunities for joint procurement of public safety LMR devices. In commenting on a draft of this report, DHS agreed with the recommendation.




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