16 Years After 9/11 FirstNet Is Still Uncertain

Published: September 11, 2017

FirstNetInformation TechnologyJustice/Public Safety & Homeland SecurityNetwork ServicesProfessional ServicesPublic Private PartnershipsPublic Safety Communications

Recommended after 9/11, FirstNet continues to face implementation problems as final state plans are due to be presented soon.

After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 the federal government published a myriad of reports and recommendations for federal, state and local agencies. These measures were all intended to improve security, emergency preparedness and responses to disasters. One of the most prominent results of these recommendations, for state and local governments, is the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet). FirstNet is tasked with establishing a National Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN). This is meant to address the communication failures that beleaguered first responders during the attacks by creating a first responder dedicated voice and data communication system. With the final state plans slated to be announced by FirstNet by the end of September 2017, the future of the NPSBN still has some questions 16 years after the attacks that spurred the system’s development.

With 18 states and 2 territories already opting-in to the federal radio access network (RAN) build out plan, as of September 11, 2017, some states are choosing to consider other options in the face of unanswered concerns. While it is clear that urban and suburban areas will receive total coverage, the fate of rural communities is not certain. The cost of covering these areas could become an issue for some localities and states as FirstNet and AT&T attempt to expand coverage into new locations. As well, the timeline for the implementation of mission-critical voice capabilities and “enhanced location” technology is too far off for some responders who see the technology as vital today. With 32 states still to decide whether or not to opt-in to the federal RAN build out plan the potential for a handful or more of states to opt-out could imperil some of FirstNet’s plans. If too many states opt-out it will be hard for FirstNet to be able to cover both the operational and expansion costs that will lead to increased coverage and the implementation of new technologies for states that have opted-in. With Verizon and other major communication companies offering their own plans to states the possibility of a significant opt-out decision among states has left many uncertain about how useful FirstNet will end up being for first responders. State Governors will have until December to make a final decision regarding the RAN build plan.