A Brief History
One of the last remaining recommendations from the 9-11 Commission Report was to establish a nationwide interoperable broadband network for public safety's use. In 2012, Congress created and funded the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) for the purposes of implementing and operating such a network for 25 years. In addition to $7B in funding, Congress also allocated 20 MHz of prime "Band 14" 700 MHz spectrum for the program's use, requiring that first responders have priority access but permitting Band 14 to be monetized otherwise in order to support the NPSBN program (National Public Safety Broadband Network). The next five years were formative with data gathering from the first responder community and industry, and seeking to identify a viable business model. FirstNet issued an RFP in 2016, and a contract was signed with AT&T, the winning bidder, in March of 2017. Shortly thereafter, AT&T publicly disclosed its business model for the NPSBN that leveraged its existing commercial infrastructure. AT&T created individual state plans for the radio access network (RAN) portion, including plans to add new sites. Each state was to choose whether to Opt-In and accept the AT&T RAN, or to Opt-out and construct and operate their own RAN and take on the financial and operational obligations of doing so. New York, as well as all other states and territories, chose to Opt-In to the AT&T proposed RAN.
In March of 2017, FirstNet signed a 25-year contract with AT&T to implement and operate the NPSBN. The primary reasons cited for FirstNet's selection and award to AT&T include:
- Priority access to 100 MHz of spectrum – Although legislation only mandated priority access to the 20 MHz Band 14 spectrum, AT&T extended this to include priority access on their entire commercial spectrum, resulting in access to 100 MHz of spectrum. Including commercial spectrum with their proposal addressed a number of issues important to public safety: priority service could be made available immediately because a network exists, and the spectrum (capacity) available to support public safety during a large or simultaneous events is much greater.
- AT&T's proposal included its considerable existing commercial infrastructure (valued at $180B) plus a commitment to invest an additional $40B over the 25-year program. This represented a considerable multiple of FirstNet's $7B seed funding. Furthermore, AT&T would continue to advance their commercial mobile broadband network and technology, benefiting public safety as well.
- AT&T has a 100+ year track record as a sustainable business bringing confidence that the 25-year contract would be successful.
Public Safety Ecosystem
AT&T and FirstNet are working to foster a device and app ecosystem that encourages public safety specific product development. In addition to sponsoring the support infrastructure for app developers and creating a pool of public safety "consumers", FirstNet has established certification processes for devices and apps to assure that they are ready for public safety use.
Examples of Use
The FirstNet NPSBN will provide a dedicated transport network for public safety professionals to access applications and other data in support of their day-to-day mission and in the case of emergencies. This network will expand public safety’s access to wireless broadband and all its capabilities.
Where available, many public safety agencies already make use of commercial wireless services and a variety of useful “apps” are available. As FirstNet becomes a reality, the reliable broadband access it provides will enable the public safety community to rely upon it. With increased use, new apps will be conceived and become available.
To imagine future possibilities, view some of the links to videos and news articles listed here.
- FirstNet and Next Generation 911
- FirstNet and Emergency Medical Service Providers
- FirstNet and Telecommunicators
- FirstNet and Firefighters
- FirstNet and Law Enforcement
- 5 ways medics could use Google Glass
- Envisioning the Future of Emergency Management: Wildfire
- Firefighter Built His Own Google Glass App (article and embedded video)