July | August 2017







AT&T to Build Broadband Network Dedicated to First Responders

By Jeff Stockdale, director of legislative affairs, CSG Washington, D.C., Office
U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur L. Ross recently announced that the First Responder Network Authority, or FirstNet, an independent authority within the Department of Commerce, has entered into a 25-year, $46.5 billion agreement with AT&T to build and maintain the first nationwide wireless broadband network dedicated to America’s first responders. FirstNet's goal is for the network to be in operation by 2022, providing service to 60,000 public safety agencies nationwide. FirstNet will provide each state with an individualized plan for the implementation that fits its unique needs and vision. 
Establishing an interoperable communications network for first responders has been a national goal since Sept. 11, 2001, and was a key recommendation of the 9/11 Commission. During the Sept. 11 attacks, first responders faced difficulties communicating with each other via their radios because many were using different technologies or radio frequencies that could not interoperate.
FirstNet’s mission is to correct this problem so first responders can communicate and coordinate seamlessly. The network aims to allow public safety personnel to connect to other agencies and jurisdictions as an emergency unfolds. First responders will be able to send videos, blueprints, medical images and other types of high-speed, mission-critical data over a dedicated interoperable wireless network.
"Today is a landmark day for public safety across the nation and shows the incredible progress we can make through public-private partnerships," Ross said. "FirstNet is a critical infrastructure project that will give our first responders the communication tools they need to keep America safe and secure. This public-private partnership will also spur innovation and create over ten thousand new jobs in this cutting-edge sector."
House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden, whom Ross called “the godfather” of the FirstNet project, said at the announcement, “Through this public-private partnership, FirstNet can begin to deliver on its mission—to provide our first responders with a nationwide, high-speed, interoperable broadband public safety network, to equip our first responders with the same robust communications capabilities enjoyed by the rest of the public, and to provide tools that transcend the limits of land mobile radios of which they had for so long relied.”
FirstNet was created by Congress in Title VI of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 (P.L. 112-96). Consistent with that act, FirstNet was required to establish a Public Safety Advisory Committee comprised of members representing all disciplines of public safety as well as state, territorial, tribal and local governments to assist in carrying out its duties and responsibilities.
“Virginia has experienced earthquakes, tornadoes, floods and the Pentagon attack on 9/11, and we have seen where incident communications have been hampered by network congestion or technological boundaries,” said Dr. Jeff Stern, state coordinator of emergency management for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. “As a member of the FirstNet Public Safety Advisory Committee, I join my colleagues across this nation with high hopes that the promise of FirstNet to provide broadband capacity, reliability and mission-critical data sharing will enhance public safety communications in ways that will help to save lives in the face of today’s hazards and tomorrow’s threats.” Stern is also a member of the National Emergency Management Association, a CSG affiliate.
Under the law, states must decide to join FirstNet or build their own network subject to the provisions of the act. The decision to opt in or opt out is made by the governor of each state. FirstNet is obligated by the law to provide each governor with a plan to build the network in their state. Once the governor receives the plan, they have 90 days to decide whether to implement the plan or create their own alternative. If a governor decides to opt out, the state has 180 days to design and submit their network plans to FirstNet for approval.
FirstNet expects to deliver draft states’ plans in the summer of 2017, with final plans possibly following in the fall. FirstNet’s State Plan Vision can be found here and the designated Single Point of Contact, or SPOC, appointed by the governor of each state and territory can be found here. CSG will be closely monitoring the roll out of the network at the national and state levels. States should continue to engage with their SPOC as the development and the implementation of the network moves forward.