Update: All states on board for new public safety broadband network

The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), an independent agency in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Council Global Lead Partner AT&T have been working together on a dedicated public safety communications network that will correct significant problems first responders face when called to emergencies: among them congested commercial communications networks and agency communications systems that aren't interoperable. Those two shortcomings slow communications and disaster response coordination, which can seriously hamper the effectiveness and timeliness of police, fire and other emergency services' efforts to save lives. With all states opting in, FirstNet will likely give AT&T the go ahead to start building the network early this year. That's good news for cities and the people who live in them. — Doug Peeples


The new network, which will be built on existing AT&T infrastructure, won't be completed overnight but when it is first responders are expected to have the tools they need to respond to and manage crises with a degree of efficiency and effectiveness existing communications networks can't guarantee.

And it will provide more than secure, reliable high-speed communications. As we reported in an earlier story, the new network also will quickly provide first responders with essential information they need as they're dispatched to emergencies, not after they're on the scene. And it will relay real-time information on traffic conditions and help support other smart city public safety enhancement projects. Job creation will be another benefit.

The recommendation for FirstNet initially came from the 9/11 Commission after communications snags hampered emergency responses to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. AT&T will invest about $40 billion during the course of the contract with FirstNet. And FirstNet will spend $6.5 billion in success-based payments through five years and 20 MHz of valuable broadband spectrum to support the network.

"FirstNet is the network for public safety," said Chris Sambar, senior VP for AT&T-FirstNet. 2017 was about planning, preparing and moving quickly to bring public safety a meaningful option — one they can rely on without delay. We'll build on that groundwork in 2018 with transformative capabilities that will make FirstNet the most valuable communications system for first responders.

"And since this is likely the biggest innovation that most first responders will see in their careers, we can't wait to bring it to as many emergency responders as possible."

In 2018, the network is expected to increase coverage and capacity and add access to dedicated mobile networks that can be implemented when more coverage and support is needed, provide 24/7 access to a dedicated Security Operations Center, next-generation public safety tools and more.

In addition to the 50 states, Washington, D.C. and two U.S. territories also opted in to FirstNet. The three Pacific territories — American Samoa, Guam and the Northern Marianas Islands — have until March 12 to finalize their decisions.

Doug Peeples is a Portland, Oregon-based writer specializing in technology and energy. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.