Mississippi halts emergency responders broadband network


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Mississippi has pulled the plug – at least temporarily – on a high-tech broadband network that can send video and data to emergency workers in a time of crisis.

Even though the $56 million project was nearly 80 percent complete, Mississippi’s Wireless Communications Commission voted last week to freeze the project because of an impasse with the federal government and a state budget shortfall.

Not going quietly, the state’s police have started a grassroots campaign to lobby state legislators to save it with the fire chiefs likely to join.

“We’re still trying to see what we can do to salvage this,” said Vicki Helfrich, the wireless commission’s executive officer, told the Biloxi Sun-Herald.

The project was created in 2011 thanks to a federal grand from the U.S. Department of Commerce, but before the founding of the board for FirstNet, the federal government’s First Responder Network that aims to link federal, state and local responders during a large-scale emergency.

That board suspended the funding for seven jurisdictions, including Mississippi, which received the Department of Commerce’s grants, until each negotiated a lease for spectrum space. Those negotiations, however, have been ongoing without a resolution as states and the federal government have battled over control of the spectrum.

Also, it was just earlier this month that FirstNet leaders issued a request for information to major vendors to see what technology should be used in the new system, making it still unclear how jurisdictions – like Mississippi – that have already started the process would fit in.

Those negotiations, along with a state budget shortfall – the Mississippi wireless commission was given only $6 million of its $14.6 million request, meaning the commission does not have the $4.6 million needed to operate the network if it becomes complete.

While that carries on, the state’s emergency management leaders are growing restless.

“Are we going to be beating the drum?” said Ken Winter, executive director of the Mississippi Association of Police Chiefs, told the Biloxi Sun-Herald. “Absolutely. What we’re hearing from the legislature (is) that they think the locals need to invest more in it. The bottom line: small towns and cities across the state simply do not have the resources to invest in the front end like that.”

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Broadband, Economy, Emergency Management, FirstNet, Ken Winter, Mississippi, Mobility, Public Safety, State & Local News, States, Tech News, Vicki Helfrich