National Public Safety Broadband Network Moves Forward

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur L. Ross announced this morning that the First Responder Network Authority (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.

Establishing an interoperable communications network for first responders has been a national goal since September 11, 2001 and was a key recommendation of the 9/11 Commission. During the September 11th 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.

"Today is a landmark day for public safety across the Nation and shows the incredible progress we can make through public-private partnerships," said Secretary Ross. "FirstNet is a critical infrastructure project that will give our first responders the communications 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 (R-OR), whom Secretary 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 2012. Under the law that created FirstNet, 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.  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.

FirstNet’s fact sheet on state plans can be found here.