FirstNet board members today unanimously voted to have the FirstNet staff release the final request for proposal (RFP) in early January, allowing vendor teams that want to build a much-anticipated nationwide public-safety broadband network to submit public-private-partnership proposals that will be due in May.

FirstNet Chairwoman Sue Swenson said that the RFP is the culmination of an “intense process” by the FirstNet board and staff during the past several months, including seven hours of closed-session meetings this week.

“This is a significant event that I think we will all remember,” Swenson said after the board approved the RFP release. “We have more work to do, but this is a big, big step forward to the nationwide broadband network.”

FirstNet Vice Chairman Jeff Johnson, who was among the public-safety leaders who lobbied Congress for years to secure the 700 MHz spectrum and funding for what would become FirstNet, said he has “been waiting seven years” for this. Johnson also noted the open-ended nature of the RFP, which addresses FirstNet’s 16 core statement of objectives but does not dictate the methods used to meet those objectives.

“Now, we have before us a RFP,” Johnson said. “That RFP outlines a portrait. I am anxious to see how industry chooses their palette of colors to paint the picture. I think that, when we receive the proposals back, it is going to paint a picture of how what will be the first-in-the-world nationwide public safety network will look and how it will operate.”

FirstNet CEO Mike Poth said that FirstNet will conduct a webinar detailing the RFP and release the bidding documents early in January—“no later than the second week of January,” Poth said during a press conference call after the board meeting. Potential bidders will have three weeks to ask questions about the RFP, and FirstNet plans to provide responses to those questions within 30 days, Poth said.

Proposals will be due in May 2016, after which the bids will be evaluated and a winning proposal will be selected. FirstNet President TJ Kennedy said that key criteria that FirstNet will consider include offerers’ past performance, proposed network coverage and capacity, the ability to build an ecosystem, and whether the business-management proposal ensures that the nationwide network can be sustained long term.

Although the proposed timeline calls for evaluations to be completed at the end of 2016, Poth said that process could be completed sooner—something that several board members urged, so public-safety users could realize the benefits of the broadband network as soon as possible.

“Obviously, if we have 10 offerers come in [with RFP responses], that will take us longer than if we have three offerers,” Poth said. “There will be opportunities to accelerate the final evaluation period, depending upon the number of final offerers.”