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FirstNet Partnership Kicks Off Fifth Year, Brings Initial 5G Investment to FirstNet

April 1, 2021

This week marked the fourth anniversary of the public-private partnership formed by the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) and our network contractor AT&T. On March 30, 2017, we launched this first-of-its-kind partnership and, importantly, took a major step in realizing public safety’s vision for their own specialized communications network. Today, that network — FirstNet — is a reality for America’s first responders.

The genesis of FirstNet, unfortunately, is rooted in tragedy. The September 11, 2001, attacks on our nation revealed fundamental problems with the communications systems used by our first responders. Legions of police, fire, and paramedics responded to the attacks, but struggled to communicate with each other because the radio systems they relied on did not easily operate between agencies. Land lines and mobile phones were so overwhelmed that first responder communications were further limited.

As a result of those challenges, the 9/11 Commission Report recommended establishing an interoperable nationwide network dedicated to public safety communications. Building on the Commission’s recommendation, the public safety community joined together to advocate before Congress for their own broadband network — one that would serve first responders’ unique communications needs. They advocated for a network that would provide interoperability and innovation, so they could communicate with each other through disasters, large events, and everyday emergencies. Public safety’s dedication led to the creation of FirstNet.

Four years of progress

Over the last four years, this partnership between the FirstNet Authority and AT&T has brought together the very best in the public and private sectors with a singular focus on supporting public safety’s mission. Together, we are delivering on our commitment to the public safety community: to provide a single nationwide, interoperable network for the millions of police, fire, EMS, and public safety workers across the country.

Since becoming operational, the FirstNet network has supported public safety in almost every type of emergency or incident, from hurricanes, floods, man-made events, and wildfires to coping with and confronting the COVID-19 pandemic. And public safety is taking notice — in February, AT&T announced more than 15,000 public safety agencies are using over 2 million connections on the network. FirstNet continues to expand, with AT&T recently saying it hit 90% deployment of public safety’s dedicated spectrum.

Federal oversight, investments strengthen FirstNet

Our role at the FirstNet Authority is to oversee the creation, delivery, and growth of the FirstNet network. Our responsibility has evolved over the last four years, as the project has moved from consultation to planning to implementation and now operations and growth.

The FirstNet Authority’s focus is on ensuring that AT&T delivers on the terms of its contract to create a network that meets the needs of public safety now and into the future. We are also responsible for directing investments in the network to ensure that it evolves, grows, and innovates based on public safety’s critical communications needs. Both of these functions — oversight and investment — are unique to FirstNet; no other carrier gives public safety the same level of assurances.

Our investments help us deliver on the promise of a differentiated, dedicated, and enduring network to support first responders. We set the strategy for the future of the network through the FirstNet Authority Roadmap, and then we implement it through our engagement and investment efforts, which rely on public safety consultation and feedback.

Last year, the FirstNet Authority Board directed our first investments for the network, which included initial upgrades to the FirstNet Core to enable access to 5G services for FirstNet subscribers. Today, we are pleased to join AT&T in announcing this initial investment is becoming a reality. FirstNet subscribers will have access to AT&T’s 5G mmWave spectrum in parts of 38 cities and more than 20 venues across the country beginning this month. This is the start of a multi-phase, multi-year journey to deliver full 5G capabilities on FirstNet for public safety. More markets and availability of 5G for FirstNet will be added as AT&T continues to deploy more 5G spectrum across the country.

Access to 5G is a major development for FirstNet, yet we are only scratching the surface of future innovations for first responders. While there is more work to be done to advance mission critical 5G capabilities for first responders, the FirstNet Authority is thrilled to deliver additional capabilities to first responders with initial access to this new technology.

Remembering our past as we look to the future

This September will mark the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. At the FirstNet Authority we never forget why FirstNet exists today. Together with public safety, we are working with AT&T to ensure FirstNet delivers what public safety asked for and needs. We are proud to serve America’s first responders and public safety personnel – the lifelines of our communities. The FirstNet Authority is here to ensure FirstNet, public safety’s network, continues to help first responders in their lifesaving missions.

The FirstNet Authority has an important responsibility to advance the network for public safety and provide them with a world class communications experience. With this in mind, we directed investments to ensure public safety has access to 5G on the network based on our Roadmap. The initial phase of 5G for FirstNet is here, and we look forward to the ingenuity that the public safety community will surely apply to 5G-enabled technologies to help them protect and serve.


Robert T. Osterthaler Board Chair, First Responder Network Authority

In just four years, the FirstNet Authority and AT&T have transformed the FirstNet network into a next-generation broadband network for first responders. By expanding the network to include 5G, public safety will continue to benefit from the latest tools and technologies designed to keep them and their communities safe.”


Evelyn Remaley Acting NTIA Administrator


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 TwitterFacebookInstagram, and LinkedIn for the latest FirstNet Authority updates.

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