FirstNet: Initial buildout of public safety’s network verified, delivering for America’s first responders

by Jim Bugel - President FirstNet Program at AT&T and Joe Wassel - Executive Director and CEO First Responder Network Authority

January 17, 2024

“The initial build of the FirstNet network was done on time, on budget and on task.”

With those words, the First Responder Network Authority Board Chair Chief Richard Carrizzo confirmed and validated the successful completion of the initial 5-year buildout of FirstNet®, America’s public safety broadband network.

The journey to this moment has been remarkable — it started with the development of custom FirstNet state plans for all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the 5 U.S. territories. Ultimately, all 56 states and territories decided to opt into FirstNet, kicking off AT&T’s nationwide buildout of public safety’s network in 2018, which was contractually required to be completed by March 30, 2023. Since then, the FirstNet Authority reviewed and verified all aspects of the build commitments culminating with a final validation in December.

Through our public-private partnership — and close collaboration with the public safety community across the country — we have achieved many milestones with the completion of the initial phase of buildout of FirstNet representing a defining accomplishment.

We are grateful to the public safety community who had the vision. They provided essential feedback and guidance that informed every stage of the initial buildout. Their vision is now reality. But we aren’t stopping there. Through the life of this public-private partnership, the FirstNet Authority will continuously make investments to grow and evolve the network for America’s first responders.

Public safety’s vision for FirstNet stemmed from the communications failures that occurred during the response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The 9/11 Commission report recommended the creation of a single, nationwide broadband network specifically for first responders, and Congress passed bipartisan legislation to address the communications challenges that had long hampered public safety response.

FirstNet is one of the most significant infrastructure programs in our country – and it has delivered for America’s first responders on time and on budget. In the last 5 years, the FirstNet partnership delivered more than 1,000 new, purpose-built cell sites where state and public safety stakeholders identified a coverage need to further emergency response. Every U.S. state, territory and the District of Columbia benefits from the FirstNet infrastructure investment. Additionally, the FirstNet Authority’s licensed Band 14 spectrum was deployed across the country to give all first responders – career or volunteer; federal, tribal, state or local; urban, suburban or rural – the dedicated connectivity they require when and where they need it.

Both the FirstNet enacting law and the federal government’s contract with AT&T required that rural areas would be a priority in the nationwide FirstNet buildout. As a result, FirstNet today covers more than 2.91 million square miles. That’s 250,000 square miles more than commercial networks. This didn’t happen by accident – it was achieved because public safety’s needs guided where the network was built. And FirstNet has bolstered network capacity and expanded wireless coverage in rural and tribal areas.

For tribal communities, the FirstNet coverage footprint increased on tribal lands by more than 40% between 2020 and 2022. This includes the more than 100 cell sites spanning Navajo Nation’s vast territory in New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah, as well as collaborations with local telecom providers to quickly address rural coverage needs. The nationwide infrastructure investment continues to provide critical FirstNet connectivity for the brave men and women who protect and serve rural and tribal communities across America.

That said, our work is far from done. With the initial buildout completed, we’re shifting to the next phase of evolving, enhancing, and expanding FirstNet, focusing on constant innovation to ensure first responders can reliably communicate and access advanced, purpose-built solutions to keep both themselves and their communities safe.

The FirstNet Authority and AT&T have the distinct honor to serve America’s first responders. Together – alongside the public safety community – we will continue to drive innovation and expand the reach of the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network.  We’re proud and fully committed to the vision and mission of FirstNet and look forward to the work ahead.

FirstNet and the FirstNet logo are registered trademarks and service marks of the First Responder Network Authority. All other marks are the property of their respective owners.