The public-safety community may not have received the federal money it specifically asked for to build a nationwide broadband network, but it could play a valuable role in helping communities get a piece of the $7.2 billion in stimulus funds allocated for broadband deployments in underserved areas.

According to Craig Settles, founder of Successful.com, which helps municipalities develop strategies for deploying broadband technology, a public-safety agency could play an anchor position in the grant process. “The public-safety piece adds ultimate value because it’s top of mind,” Settles said. “Communities would benefit to position this as being built to help public safety and also benefit others.”

Moreover, the grants, which will be issued by both the National Telecommunication and Information Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will fund 80% of a network deployment, while a municipality or service provider must obtain funding for the other 20%. Settles said the public-safety angle has an advantage in that area too as cities typically can pass bonds when public-safety funding is at stake.

An example of such a strategy is in New York, where the city has deployed a high-speed mobile network based on TD-CDMA technology primarily for public-safety use. The network now has nearly 400 cell sites in the ground and is supporting 53 different applications from 19 different agencies. Besides public-safety needs, the network also is being used for many city functions such as automating traffic lights, replacing T-1 lines and tracking sanitation trucks.

The NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) is charged with awarding $4.7 billion to eligible parties to develop and expand broadband services to rural and under-served areas and improve access to broadband by public-safety agencies. While the RFP process can’t mandate that a grant winner be required to provide public-safety services, it can be written to encourage this, Settles said.

Of the $4.7 billion, $250 million is available for programs that encourage sustainable adoption of broadband services. And at least $200 million is earmarked to upgrade technology and capacity in public centers such as colleges and libraries. In addition, up to $350 million is available for the development and maintenance of statewide broadband inventory maps. The Department of Agriculture will distribute the other $2.5 billion.

The Federal Communications Commission, NTIA and the Rural Utilities Service will jointly host a public meeting, which will also be broadcast over the Internet, on March 10 to discuss procedures for administering the broadband grants.