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FirstNet: An internet express lane

Aug. 4, 2017
by Mark Ollig

Driving the daily commute on I-394 in and out of downtown Minneapolis, through rush-hour traffic, is slow and frustrating.

Those who endure this every workday understand it all too well.

Many drivers speed up their commute by using MnPASS.

By paying Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), drivers obtain an express lane pass (MnPASS).

Physically, MnPASS is an electronic wireless identification transponder tag which is attached on the inside of a car’s windshield.

MnPass allows one to drive in the faster moving, specially designated, far-left express lane during peak-driving times.

“Overhead antennas and readers located on structures such as bridges, detect the MnPASS tag in the windshield. The reader records the tag ID and sends the information back to MnDOT’s central system, known as IRIS, which is used to control field devices, like toll signs and ramp meters, and to collect traffic data,” according to MnDOT.

During times of heavy traffic congestion, driving down the MnPASS express lane gets you to your destination faster and without the bottlenecks.

At times, the internet highway becomes congested; causing “bottlenecks” for users receiving information over it.

On a daily basis; police, firefighters, medical first responders, and other emergency teams use technology and digital communications by way of radio, cellular, and the internet for sending and receiving information.

When they require the internet service, it needs to be available and working.

Weather disasters and other emergencies can cause overloads in a cellular network system’s ability to provide service.

When these systems are handling enormous amounts of data, they can become congested and slow down the processing of not only the publics’, but emergency services’ cellular/internet accessibility, as well.

During emergencies, wireless networks often become overloaded with increased public data usage, as folks seek information or knowledge of the condition of friends or loved ones.

Severe overloads in the network will result in slowdowns, and probable service disruptions and breakdowns within communication routing links – the same links used by emergency response personal.

Wireless mobile/internet service providers do augment their networks by adding redundancy, better-quality equipment, and updated software in order to provide reliability and improved service.

Public safety is paramount, and emergency first responders need to have priority over regular internet traffic.

There needs to be a reserved internet express-lane, if you will, in order for emergency response personal to quickly and efficiently perform their duties during times of disaster.

An ongoing US government plan called First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) is being designed for use as a national emergency responder network.

Signed into law Feb. 22, 2012, FirstNet is an independent authority within the US Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

“It’s the first project of this magnitude for our country, and of this capability nationwide. This is a very important infrastructure project for public safety,” explained Sue Swenson, FirstNet chair and technology executive.

Under federal law, FirstNet is required to consult with each state before beginning construction within said state.

At the end of the consultation process, FirstNet will submit a plan to each state governor for approval.

The governor will either approve the plan, thus permitting FirstNet to opt-in; or disapprove and opt-out.

FirstNet says their mission is to “ensure the building, deployment, operation, and maintenance of the first high-speed, nationwide wireless broadband network dedicated to public safety.”

This secure network will provide first responders with abundant bandwidth data capacity, extended geographical coverage, interoperability among connected response-team devices; uninterrupted service reliability, priority and preventative maintenance, and assured quality-of-service.

FirstNet divides the country into 10 regions; Minnesota is located in Region 5, along with Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio.

As of this writing, states which have already approved build-out plans and opted-in for FirstNet include: Iowa, Kentucky, Arkansas, Wyoming, Virginia, West Virginia, and New Jersey.

Check out the US government’s FirstNet website at http:/www.firstnet.gov.

Minnesota is also involved with the FirstNet project.

The Minnesota-FirstNet Consultation Project webpage is located on the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s website at http://bit.ly/1rJQO1E.

MnPASS webpage can be found at http://www.dot.state.mn.us/mnpass.

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