Five public-safety jurisdictions will build LTE wireless broadband networks with help from more than $215 million in federal grants awarded yesterday by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and Rural Utilities Service (RUS).

“Today's action … is an important step toward the National Broadband Plan goal of building a nationwide, interoperable public safety network,” Jamie Barnett, chief of the FCC’s public safety and homeland security bureau, said yesterday in a prepared statement. “The projects will help ensure that America's first responders have access to the cutting-edge communications they need to rapidly respond and coordinate during emergencies."

Public-safety jurisdictions awarded the grants were:

  • Charlotte, N.C.: $16.7 million
  • New Mexico: $38.7 million
  • San Francisco Bay Area: $50.6 million
  • Mississippi: $70 million
  • New Jersey: $39.6 million

The grants are part of the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) that was included in the stimulus package approved early in 2009. Initially, $7.2 billion was earmarked for BTOP grants, but that amount was decreased by $302 million recently to help offset the expenditure of federal funds to rehire teachers.

“These investments will begin to harness the power of broadband to improve education, health care and public safety,” Vice President Joe Biden said in a prepared statement.

Yesterday marked the second round of BTOP funding to be announced, and a third round will be announced next month. About $1 billion in BTOP funding will be awarded in September, according to an NTIA source.

Thanks to FCC waivers allowing public-safety entities to use the 10 MHz of 700 MHz broadband spectrum licensed to the PSST, 21 public-safety jurisdictions can proceed with plans to build LTE wireless networks. A prerequisite to proceeding is for the FCC to approve an interoperability plan for the jurisdiction, FCC spokesman Rob Kenny said during an interview.

Earlier this week, the FCC granted jurisdictions more time to demonstrate their interoperability plans and to identify a vendor. To date, only the San Francisco Bay project has taken this step, Kenny said.