This blog is a repost from TribalNet magazine, originally published in the Spring 2022 edition.
This year marks the tenth anniversary of the legislation that created the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority). Over the last decade, the FirstNet Authority has worked hand-in-hand with public safety to fulfill its mission of building and deploying a nationwide public safety broadband network.
As part of this effort, we have worked to expand broadband coverage into rural and remote areas of America — including in tribal communities that have historically lacked access to reliable communication services. Today, the network covers more than 2.81 million square miles and supports nearly 20,000 public safety agencies and organizations.
A long-standing partnership with tribal communities
From our earliest days, the FirstNet Authority has collaborated with tribal leadership and organizations to better understand the needs of responders in Indian Country. We established a Tribal Working Group (TWG) within our Public Safety Advisory Committee to provide advice and guidance on how to address communications challenges facing Indian Country.
Among their many roles, TWG representatives educate other tribal leaders on FirstNet and the ways broadband can enhance public safety. In 2021, the TWG helped the FirstNet Authority update its resources, including the tribal web page and Frequently Asked Questions, to provide tribes with the latest information about FirstNet. The TWG also helped the FirstNet Authority update the Outreach to Tribal Governments Guidance to provide tailored advice on how to engage with and build trusted relationships with tribal communities.
TWG members also provided critical input that will be used to evolve the FirstNet Authority Roadmap, our guide to the future of FirstNet, and recommended experts in the tribal community to provide feedback on Roadmap domain technologies, such as temporary/on-demand coverage, location-based services, push-to-talk interworking, data access and sharing, and applications and devices. These experts will provide key insights into tribal needs related to these technologies, helping to shape future network investments and efforts.
FirstNet deployables boost coverage for tribal responders
Throughout our decade of engaging with tribes, we have heard the need for more and better broadband coverage across Indian Country. FirstNet is coordinating with tribes to build new cell sites on tribal lands so responders can stay connected, even in remote areas. FirstNet subscribers also have access to the FirstNet fleet of deployables — over 100 mobile cell sites that can boost coverage following disasters or incidents and during major planned events in remote areas. Recently, the FirstNet Authority Board visited with Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer to demonstrate the deployables program and discuss the buildout of more permanent infrastructure on Navajo Nation lands.
We have also worked with FirstNet, Built with AT&T to explore innovative solutions to boost coverage across the vast rural areas that often make up tribal lands. FirstNet MegaRange® is one such solution. Built with high-power user equipment, FirstNet MegaRange® can boost signal strength up to six times the normal cellular power, extending coverage to the edge of a cell site. For tribal responders, this widens the broadband footprint they can rely on.
Tribal responders can also now purchase compact rapid deployables (CRDs), small mobile cell sites that provide FirstNet cellular and Wi-Fi coverage almost anywhere. CRDs can be transported using a regular trailer hitch and activated by one person. This means a lone responder with a pickup truck can easily set up broadband coverage in just a few minutes. The typical CRD range for cellular coverage is half a mile, and the range for Wi-Fi is up to 1,000 feet.
Ten years of serving tribal responders
In ten years, we have seen the benefits of expanding life-saving broadband coverage to rural and remote regions of the country. As we look to the future, the FirstNet Authority will remain committed to its tribal partners to ensure that FirstNet continues to address their broadband coverage needs.
Learn more about how FirstNet is transforming public safety communications — contact your local FirstNet Authority Public Safety Advisor and sign up for our discipline newsletters. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn for the latest FirstNet Authority updates.
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