Virginia is expected today to be the first state to opt in to AT&T FirstNet plans to build a wireless public safety network that ultimately will interconnect with public safety networks in all 50 states. Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe announced the decision at an event today.

“Firstnet will put modern technologies that citizens use every day – like smartphones and apps – into the hands of Virginia’s first responders, helping them help save lives and protect residents while creating a single, interoperable system across the Commonwealth and across the country,” said McAuliffe in a press release.

States Must Opt in to AT&T FirstNet Plan
The name FirstNet applies to both the planned nationwide public safety network and the independent authority within the U.S. Department of Commerce responsible for the network. In March, that independent authority announced that AT&T had been chosen to build the nationwide network using $6.5 billion raised through the reverse auction of TV broadcast spectrum and an additional $40 billion to be contributed by AT&T.

In June, AT&T submitted details about the network it proposes to build in individual states to authorities in each state. Individual states have the option of opting in or out of those plans. If a state opts out, it is responsible for selecting a different network operator to construct the network in that state, which must conform to established guidelines.

First responders in Virginia will see benefits even before AT&T completes construction of the public safety network in that state. As today’s press release notes, first responder subscribers will gain “immediate access to quality of service and priority to voice and data across the existing nationwide AT&T LTE network.” By year-end, first responders also are expected to be able to pre-empt other users on the AT&T network, the release states.

As part of its partnership with FirstNet, AT&T gains access to 20 MHz of spectrum in the 700 MHz band, in which the public safety network will be built. When and where that network is not in use by public safety, regular AT&T customers will be able to use it. The company also has indicated that it expects to gain cost efficiencies by building out some of its own spectrum at the same time that it builds the public safety network.

According to today’s press release, AT&T’s Virginia FirstNet proposal was designed with input from more than 90 meetings with that state’s public safety community. Unique communications needs included the importance of maritime coverage and increasing coverage in rural areas, as well as coordination with military and federal government, FirstNet and AT&T said.

Image courtesy of flickr user First Responder Network.