The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), the nascent nationwide first responder LTE network, today announced that five states now have opted into the program. FirstNet states now include Arkansas, Iowa, Kentucky, Virginia, and Wyoming.
“Governors Hutchinson, Reynolds, Bevin, McAuliffe and Mead are taking critical steps to fulfill the final recommendations from the 9/11 Commission,” said FirstNet CEO Mike Poth in a press release. “This decision will help ensure their states’ first responders have the communications capabilities they need without delay.”
The press release says that states and territories have until mid-December to opt into the program, which is an “independent authority” within the U.S. Department of Commerce. The project leader is AT&T. Under a 25-year agreement, the carrier will invest $40 billion to build, operate and maintain the network. In return, AT&T will share the 20 MHz of spectrum in the 700 MHz band that FirstNet has been allocated. The emergency network’s use will be prioritized over AT&T. Motorola Solutions is providing mobile apps, software, and services.
Emergency communications in the United States have been hampered in at least a couple of ways over the years. One is that networks – particularly cellular and wireless – can melt down quickly when an emergency occurs. People calling for help or letting loved ones know they are safe to make it impossible for first responders to communicate effectively. The second problem is that different first responders –police, and firefighters, for instance – often use different networks and therefore can’t communicate effectively.
The first state-by-state plans for FirstNet, which is aimed at meeting the challenges, were released last month and the first state to opt-in — Virginia — announced its intentions last week. States also have the option of opting out, and procedures for doing so were approved last month by the FCC.
Separately, initiatives at improving communications capabilities during natural and manmade crises have been undertaken by the telecommunications ecosystem. For instance, drones can be dispatched to supplement existing capacity when an incident occurs.