The first half of this year has seen several key developments in the U.S. government’s efforts to establish a nationwide, broadband-enabled public safety network, and we look forward to working with our members to help first responders protect America’s health and safety. In March, the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) awarded a 25-year contract to AT&T to build the broadband infrastructure for the project, and seven states have already opted in to the national network. Yet, without critical steps to ensure the interoperability for this national network, this vision will remain a dream.

ACT |The App Association is committed to creating an environment that will bring pioneering developers to the public safety space and encourage them to create the apps, programs, and services that will drive the first responder network’s success. The underlying promise of FirstNet is a unified platform, providing certainty that the products our innovative app developers make will work across state lines and between all first responders’ systems, also enabling small businesses to scale up quickly. Without strong bandwidth, network coverage, and platform interoperability, our members cannot adequately serve America’s first responders, and all efforts for this national network would be in vain.

When Congress first introduced the public safety network idea in 2012, they intended to establish a unified and interoperable wireless broadband network to support the innovative apps that serve public safety interests across the country. For this reason, the framework Congress created strongly encourages states to opt into a federal system and requires detailed and intense vetting of states that wish to opt-out of this federal system.

We know first-hand that interoperability requirements alone do not guarantee the free flow of data between systems. For example, many of our members continue to face impediments to data interoperability in the healthcare industry, despite the best intentions of the 2009 HITECH Act that created America’s electronic health records incentive program. Differences in hospital record systems lead to lack of choice, higher prices, disingenuous tolling of data flows, and – ultimately – an extremely unhappy user base. It is imperative that we learn from our mistakes and avoid these negative outcomes and setbacks for our first responders.

For this reason, the App Association strongly supports states opting in to the federal public safety broadband network to best enable their first responders to protect public health and safety. We take issue with the positions of organizations like the Competitive Carriers Association that frame state opt-outs as an enhancement of the network, which is a serious misinterpretation of the clear path Congress has laid for first responder communications and would undermine the nationwide public safety network’s success.

It is a national priority to ensure our country’s first responders can to do their job as best they can, especially during our times of need. We will continue to advocate for a unified and interoperable nationwide platform to save lives and protect our country.