Interoperability grant guidelines revised

Just six days before deadline, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration has published revised guidance for states and local agencies to apply for a share of a national $1 billion public safety interoperability fund.

The NTIA released the 49-page revision Aug. 16, with applications from states and territories due Aug. 22. Under the guidance, $968 million will be distributed to the states, which in turn will be required to match 20 percent of their awards. Each state must submit an interoperability strategy, as well as justifications for specific projects.

Congress established the fund as part of the transition to digital television. It is to be reimbursed by proceeds of an upcoming federal auction of public radio spectrum. Under the law, the NTIA, in consultation with the Homeland Security Department, must award all grants by Sept. 30. Agencies have until Sept. 30, 2010, to spend the money.

The goal of the fund is to assist public-safety agencies in acquiring, deploying and training for interoperable radio systems that can use public safety radio spectrum. Interoperability?the ability of public safety agencies to talk with one another by radio at a major disaster scene?became a high priority for homeland security following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Under the revised guidance, states now will be eligible to be reimbursed for planning and coordination, as well as for funding for software and equipment, NTIA said. Up to 5 percent of the funding may be spent on development of statewide strategies for public safety interoperability.

Although the original grant guidance called for investments in the 700 Mhz band only?the band in which public safety will receive assigned spectrum as part of the upcoming federal auction?the revised guidelines allow for investments in other spectrum bands.

States also may use a portion of the grant funding to establish and implement a strategic technology reserve that may be pre-positioned in readiness for a disaster, NTIA said. The program also includes a set-aside of $75 million to be distributed to all 56 states and territories specifically for prepositioning activities.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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