1. What is FirstNet?
FirstNet, short for the First Responder Network Authority, is a federal government authority tasked with building and managing the first nationwide, high-speed, broadband network dedicated to public safety. FirstNet will provide a single interoperable platform for emergency and daily public safety data communications. The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 created FirstNet as an independent authority within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). FirstNet is governed by a 15-member board consisting of the Attorney General of the United States, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and 12 members appointed by the Secretary of Commerce. The FirstNet Board is composed of representatives from public safety; local, state, and federal government; and the wireless communications industry. Also, consistent with requisites of the statute, a Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC) was created. The PSAC consists of 40 members who represent public safety organizations from all disciplines of public safety, as well as state, territorial, tribal and local governments. This advisory committee provides its advice to help ensure FirstNet delivers a network that meets the needs of public safety.
2. Why is AT&T building the network?
The enabling legislation mandated a public/private partnership that would allow FirstNet to eventually become self-sufficient. Following a 15-month national RFP process, AT&T was selected to build the public safety broadband network. In exchange for the spectrum access and financial resources brought by FirstNet, AT&T has committed to spending $40 billion over the life of the 25-year contract to build, deploy, operate and maintain the network. AT&T may profit from leasing unused or underutilized portions of the dedicated spectrum to nonpublic safety subscribers. AT&T also anticipates attracting larger numbers of public safety subscribers. Public safety users are NOT required to use the FirstNet system, but may elect to subscribe and pay rates comparable to or below current cellular rate plans offered by companies nationwide. The contract between FirstNet and AT&T requires a minimum number of public safety users to elect to use the network or financial penalties could be levied against AT&T.
3. I live and work in a region of the state that lacks reliable AT&T coverage. How can FirstNet benefit me?
As of May 2018, cellular coverage in Vermont remains unchanged. Regardless of what cellular carrier you are using, coverage must be a first consideration. AT&T is starting an ambitious buildout with the support of designated funding from FirstNet. As reported to the Public Safety Broadband Network Commission (PSBC) in April, AT&T is working on 30 Vermont FirstNet sites, plus more business-as-usual sites, at the same time. The 25-year contract FirstNet has with AT&T requires the company to complete the initial buildout by 2022. So, while you may not currently have AT&T coverage, that could change within the next four years.
4. What is LTE?
LTE stands for Long Term Evolution. LTE is a mobile broadband standard and part of the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) which covers cellular telecommunications, network technologies, and system specifications. This International standard is becoming the basis for all future mobile systems. Because of its stability, flexibility, and ability to transmit high speed data, the FCC mandates the use of 3GPP standards-based LTE technologies for the build out of the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN). Adhering to this standard helps insure interoperability between systems and devices, and provides for a variety of infrastructure and device vendors.
5. What is Band 14?
Band 14 is a part of the 700 Mhz spectrum. Within that spectrum are bands that are licensed by the FCC to various vendors. Congress specifically licensed the Band 14 spectrum to FirstNet. As FirstNet's private partner, only AT&T has the right to use this spectrum and will be incorporating it into their overall network as they enhance their existing infrastructure and build new towers. In the future, AT&T may offer features and applications specific to Band 14. FirstNet approved devices that operate on the 700 Mhz Band 14 spectrum are starting to be released. Regardless of the carrier you use, the development of new technology will open the door to more communication options for first responders.
6. Will the public safety broadband network replace my Land Mobile Radio (LMR) system?
No. The public safety broadband network will not replace LMR radio systems in the near future. This is because today’s LMR networks support push-to-talk, direct mode, and emergency call functionality. In addition, public safety users typically communicate one-to-many, instead of one-to-one. Current mobile voice communications on cellular service standards are still under development for mission-critical Voice over Long Term Evolution (VoLTE). Until VoLTE can meet public safety standards, it will not replace LMR systems.
7. When will mission-critical voice be available for FirstNet users?
FirstNet can’t predict the arrival of mission‐critical voice, in part, because the standards are still under development. The standards work will determine the functionality and performance requirements for mission‐critical Voice over Long Term Evolution (VoLTE). FirstNet is actively involved in the standards‐setting process and the industry at large is working to accelerate the development of this new worldwide standard.
8. Who qualifies as a FirstNet primary subscriber?
Anyone who currently serves in a first responder role is eligible to sign up for a FirstNet subscriber plan. A Primary User is any public safety organization/individual whose primary mission and job function is to provide services to the public in the area of law enforcement, fire protection or emergency medical services. When a public safety organization subscribes to a FirstNet plan, that organization will provide AT&T with a list of the names of people who serve in a primary role. Once a person's name has been submitted to AT&T, that first responder is eligible to subscribe, regardless of whether the individual is paying his/her own cell phone bill or the organization is paying the bill. This group is distinct from Extended Primary Users who do not act as first responders, but may be called upon to support Primary Users with the mitigation, remediation, overhaul, clean up, restoration, or provision of other services that are required during the time of an emergency or its aftermath.