States ‘Opting In’ to FirstNet

By Jeffrey King, MPS, PMP  |   Aug 8, 2017
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Officers in more than a dozen states and territories will be among the first eligible to use the new nationwide public safety broadband network.

Governors across the country are making the decision to approve the plan provided to them by FirstNet for building the Radio Access Network (RAN) in the state. Known commonly as “opt-in” to FirstNet, this decision delivers many benefits to the state and its public safety community.

“This is a great step in making our communities safer,” New Mexico Public Safety Secretary Scott Weaver said after Gov. Susana Martinez made the decision to opt in. “I spent years as a state police officer driving around New Mexico in a squad car – in and out of every community in the state. I know, firsthand, just how exciting this improvement is for our men and women who put on the uniform.”

As of Aug. 8, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Virginia, Iowa, Kentucky, Arkansas, Wyoming, West Virginia, New Jersey, Michigan, Maine, New Mexico, and Montana, have all made the decision to opt-in to the FirstNet network. A diverse cross-section of the country, the opt-in’s illustrate FirstNet’s work with the public safety community over the past three years to deliver customized state plans. Those in predominantly rural states have been especially interested in tapping into the network, which promises to expand coverage in those areas where it is hard to get or maintain a commercial cell signal – in remote areas, mountains, deep woods or even over water.

“Much of Michigan is rural and presents many communication challenges,” said Michigan State Police Director Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue. “Effective and robust communication capabilities are critical to all public safety officials and the citizens we serve.”

The First Responder Network Authority (“FirstNet”), grew out of a 9/11 Commission recommendation calling for interoperable communications for all U.S. first responders. In March, FirstNet partnered with AT&T to build and operate the network. AT&T is investing $40 billion over the 25-year life of the contract.

FirstNet will be a vital component for everyday response to natural disasters to terrorist incidents.

It will:

  • Connect first responders to critical information via a secure network.
  • Improve efficiency in public safety.
  • Enhance network coverage in rural and tribal areas.
  • Provide first responders with access to dedicated network deployables for additional coverage and support when needed.
  • Drive infrastructure investments across states and territories to create jobs.
  • Usher in a new wave of innovation that first responders can depend on. This will create an ever-evolving set of life-saving tools for public safety, including public safety apps, specialized devices and Internet of Things technologies. It also carries the potential for future integration with NextGen 9-1-1 networks and Smart Cities’ infrastructure.

FirstNet devices and applications will ultimately change the way local, state, and federal law enforcement operate. The FirstNet Labs in Boulder, Col., will test public safety functionality and features of device and apps on the FirstNet network. Some of the network benefits will include:

  • Quality of service and guaranteed priority immediately for opt-in states, at no extra cost.
  • Preemption by the end of 2017 for opt-in states on all LTE bands for full network access during emergencies
  • A 24-hour, 365-day customer service help desk for public safety.
  • End-to-end encryption
  • A 24/7 FirstNet security operations center, and
  • A device and application ecosystem for public safety’s needs, accessing the newest equipment, accessories and apps at reasonable prices.

Atlantic City Police Chief Henry White, Jr., is excited for what FirstNet will bring to his department, who’s officers were users of JerseyNet, one of five “early builder” pilot networks. “It’s really going to be a force multiplier here in Atlantic City,” he said. “It will provide our officers a greater level of situational awareness and safety in the community, which is going to translate into better safety and security for everyone who lives in or visits Atlantic City.”

Each governor will decide either to accept the FirstNet plan (opt in) or decide to develop its own radio access network (RAN) for the state’s portion of the nationwide network (opt out). To speed deployment, a state or territory can announce its intent to accept the plan (opt in) at any time. Once a state opts in, AT&T will immediately offer guaranteed priority service over its existing network – a full two years ahead of schedule. This will help speed the delivery of services and keep costs low for public safety.

“I think what excites me most about FirstNet is that we’re right on the cusp of getting this done,” said Sheriff Rich Stanek, FirstNet Board member and Hennepin County Sheriff. “At some point soon, we are going to have a nationwide interoperable broadband system that will provide exactly what my deputies need out on the road every day.”