FirstNet & AT&T Partner to Build Public Safety Network
With the selection of AT&T as the national FirstNet partner, the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN) moves from the planning stage to the implementation stage. The March 30 partner announcement completed a 15-month process by the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) to select a commercial partner capable of providing all first responders with an interoperable, secure and reliable network required for our mission-critical work.
“We are now preparing to receive the draft state plan for the build-out of the Radio Access Network here in Vermont,” said Terry LaValley, Chair of Vermont’s Public Safety Broadband Network Commission (PSBC). “We are anticipating receipt of the draft plan in mid-June. The commission has formed three working groups that will rigorously examine the technical, operational, financial, and product services that FirstNet proposes to offer to Vermont first responders.”
The PSBC was established by Executive Order in 2013 to help plan for and facilitate the building of a public safety network in Vermont. The PSBC is supported administratively by the Department of Public Safety. FirstNet is an independent authority within the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). The creation of FirstNet and its mission to build the nationwide network was encompassed in the final recommendation of the 911 Commission. Congress created FirstNet and allocated portions of the nationwide 700 Mhz spectrum and $7 billion for construction of the network to leverage existing telecommunications infrastructure to create the NPSBN. The network must become financially self-sustaining—the commercial partner may profit from the spectrum by leasing unused or underutilized portions to nonpublic safety subscribers. Public safety subscribers who elect to use the network also may be charged a subscriber fee, but it must be competitively priced to attract first responder users. While all states are required to have the NPSBN, individual first responders have the choice of subscribing to the network. If AT&T does not sign up a legislatively mandated number of first responders, they will face hefty fines from FirstNet.
In exchange for the spectrum and financial resources brought by FirstNet, AT&T committed to spending $40 billion over the life of the 25-year contract to build, deploy, operate and maintain the network. AT&T also pledged to connect FirstNet users with the company’s telecommunications network assets, valued at more than $180 billion. Once a state decides to opt-in to the network, AT&T will offer that state’s first responders guaranteed priority service over its existing network. By the end of the year, AT&T plans to have in-place the ability to give FirstNet users preemption rights—enabling first responder calls and use to have preference over non-FirstNet users on the AT&T network on all spectrum bands.
“A key component in our review of the FirstNet draft plan will be coverage. Within a five year time frame, AT&T will propose the steps it will take in Vermont to provide the quality of service needed for our first responders to confidently use the network. If the plan does not fully meet our coverage and service needs, the PSBC will work with FirstNet to modify that plan. In our first meeting with AT&T, they conceded that work needs to be done in Vermont and they pledged to present us with a plan to address our coverage concerns,” said LaValley.
Draft state plans are tentatively scheduled for delivery to all states and territories in June. Upon receipt of the draft plan, states will have 45 days for plan review and negotiation with AT&T. After the 45 days, FirstNet will present a final state plan to the governor of each state. In Vermont, the PSBC will provide Governor Phil Scott with a recommendation on whether to opt-in, and let FirstNet build the network, or opt-out and begin work to develop a separate plan for Vermont. States that opt-in will have immediate access to AT&T and FirstNet resources with no additional financial cost to the state. Opt-out states embark on a 6-month process to develop an alternative proposal and receive appropriate federal approval for the plan. (See opt-out plan requirements story.)
“The commission decided last year to first evaluate the FirstNet plan before embarking on an alternative path,” said LaValley. “Should an opt-out decision be considered, the information gained from the AT&T plan can provide a valuable benchmark for Vermont in soliciting proposals from other companies to build the network in this state.”
States are not allowed to profit from an alternative plan. Resources must be invested back into the state network to enable it to keep up with upgrades to the NPSBN.
Public Safety Feedback
Draft state plans will be delivered via a secure web portal that only authorized reviewers within each state may access. To allow for a broader review, FirstNet and AT&T will create a public web portal that does not contain proprietary and security information included on the secure site. Vermont will post a link to the public web portal on the main PSBC web page. A means to comment electronically on the plan will be open at the PSBC web site for 30 days. At the end of 30 days, the comments will be gathered and included within Vermont’s feedback to FirstNet on the draft plan.