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AT&T Investing $40B to Help Build First-Responder Network

The broadband network will help emergency personnel better communicate and use technologies like drones and sensors.
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AT&T's headquarters is located in downtown Dallas.
AT&T’s headquarters is located in downtown Dallas.

AT&T is investing $40 billion to help build and operate the nation’s first broadband network dedicated to police, firefighters, and emergency medical services.

The network, the brainchild of the independent entity First Responder Network Authority (or FirstNet), is expected to streamline communications between first responders during public safety crises. The development will allow emergency personnel not only to better communicate, but also to use connected technology like wearable devices and drones. The public-private network, which will cover 50 states, five U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia, is expected to create 10,000 U.S. jobs over the next two years. It will begin development later this year.

AT&T told D CEO the new network was not related to recent issues that have plagued emergency dispatchers, either due to municipal staffing problems like those that have occurred in Dallas, or network issues (some AT&T customers were unable to reach 911 earlier this month due to an outage). AT&T and FirstNet will work with each state to determine how to deliver coverage to their first responders.

AT&T’s investment will cover the 25-year span of its contract with FirstNet. Meanwhile, FirstNet will provide 20 MHz of spectrum and payments of $6.5 billion over the next five years, depending on the success of the project. FirstNet’s funding came from previous Federal Communications Commission auctions.

AT&T was selected by FirstNet, which was established by Congress in 2012 to create the network, to help build and maintain the infrastructure. FirstNet was Congress’s answer to gaps in emergency communications that were identified after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

For data and applications, first responders currently use commercial networks, which can become quickly congested. For voice communications, first responders use more than 10,000 networks, which often don’t work well with each other. With the new network, first responders could have access to real-time information on traffic conditions, access to critical information, and the capability to use technology like wearable sensors and camera-equipped drones and robots during fires, floods, and crimes.

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