FirstNet’s Nationwide Network: Becoming a reality for America’s First Responders
Published: 4/25/2017
Author: Chief Jeffrey Johnson (Ret.), CEO, Western Fire Chiefs Association

By Chief Jeff Johnson, chief executive officer (CEO) for the Western Fire Chiefs Association and vice chair for the Board of First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet)

Communications is essential to keeping the public safe and protecting our communities.  Technology can help fire fighters share information and ensure an efficient, effective response with when the call comes in.

The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) was created at the urging of the fire service community to get technology into the hands of first responders through the buildout of a nationwide broadband network. The FirstNet Network will modernize first responders’ communications and deliver specialized features that are not available to them on commercial wireless networks today. It will improve situational awareness and keep emergency personnel safer with an improved communications capability.

As the Vice Chair of FirstNet, I was pleased to achieve a major milestone in making this network a reality.  Recently, FirstNet announced an innovative public-private partnership with AT&T to leverage resources and use private sector skills to deploy the FirstNet Network in all 50 states, 5 U.S. territories and the District of Columbia. The effort is a significant investment in the communications infrastructure that public safety fought for and desperately needs for day-to-day operations, disaster response and recovery, and securing large events.

FirstNet and AT&T are committed to making this network available to responders in every community – so all fire, EMS, and law enforcement personnel have access to lifesaving technology applications and tools. The Network will make it possible to share real-time data and send live video feeds before, during and after incident response will improve the overall effectiveness of fire and emergency medical services, as well as law enforcement.

In addition, FirstNet and AT&T will maximize the resources they are bringing to the partnership to create a financially self-sustaining network. AT&T is making a significant investment in public safety: $40 billion over the 25-year life of the contract.

The next step in the roll-out of FirstNet’s high-speed network for the millions of public safety users in all 56 States and U.S. territories to the delivery of state-based buildout plans to every governor. FirstNet currently expects to submit final state plans to the governors by fall 2017.

Once the state plan is delivered, the governor will have 90 days to either accept the FirstNet plan (opt in) or decide to develop its own plan for the state’s portion of the nationwide network (opt out). Once a state opts in, AT&T will offer guaranteed priority service over its existing network immediately. This will help speed the delivery of services and keep costs low for public safety. However, if a governor opts out, a state will have go to the FCC and Department of Commerce to get an alternate plan approved to ensure interoperability and sustainability. It is likely that this process will force a multi-year delay in services to public safety in opt out states.

The fire service community has been a strong supporter of FirstNet.   While we are pleased to have delivered a key milestone for this network, our work is not done.  And we still need your support.  The following are key opportunities to help us deliver the Network to your community:

·         Reach out to their State Points of Contact (SPOC) and participate in their state’s process leading up to the governor’s decision to opt-in

·         Reach out to your state or professional associations and encourage passage of a resolution in support of FirstNet.

·         Spread the word about FirstNet in the public safety community, either by word-of-mouth or social media (@FirstNetGov).

With your help, FirstNet will be able to meet public safety's critical communication needs. Learn more at

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