Firstnet At 10: A Decade Of Dedication To Public Safety


By Edward Parkinson, CEO, First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority)

Broadband has become the lifeblood of our economy. It is also essential to our national security and public safety, a fact that first responders recognized many years ago. The tragedies of September 11th revealed fundamental problems with the communication systems used by our nation’s first responders. They needed a more advanced telecommunications infrastructure for their lifesaving mission, a reliable one to help them communicate and share information during emergencies and daily operations

In the years following the terrorist attacks, public safety from across all disciplines, including 9-1-1, EMS, fire service and law enforcement, joined together to advocate for their own high-speed broadband network. In 2012, Congress enacted a law to create the First Responder Network Authority within the Department of Commerce to ensure the building, deployment and operation of FirstNet, America’s only nationwide public safety broadband network.

On February 22, we mark the 10th anniversary of that milestone legislation that launched our organization and the mission we are on today.

FirstNet is for public safety, by public safety

From the very beginning, the FirstNet Authority developed the network in lockstep with the public safety community. Public safety advocated for the network and collaborated with us to make FirstNet a reality. Today, FirstNet serves as public safety’s broadband network in all 50 states, 5 US territories, and the District of Columbia. As of December 2021, more than 19,500 public safety agencies and organizations are using more than 3 million connections on FirstNet nationwide. We are proud to support America’s first responders.

Bringing broadband to rural and remote areas

Currently, the initial buildout of FirstNet has surpassed 95 per cent nationwide coverage in just 4 years and in 2020 alone, approximately 100,000 square miles were added to the network’s footprint. The FirstNet Authority has engaged with public safety officials to map out the expansion of FirstNet’s coverage where they said they needed it most, including in traditionally underserved and rural areas. Reaching rural America will continue to be a top priority for the FirstNet network.

The benefits of expanding coverage go beyond the public safety community. When the FirstNet spectrum is not needed by first responders, it’s available to the public to use. As a result of FirstNet’s growth, people living and working in rural communities now have access to commercial mobile broadband in some areas that previously had little or no coverage.

New marketplace for public safety

Unlike in the past when public safety users were mostly an afterthought, they are now a critical vertical market to consider for the technology industry. Over the past decade, the FirstNet Authority has spurred a competitive marketplace for public safety communication technologies. This is leading to more choices, lower costs, and specialized solutions built to public safety’s needs.

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