FirstNet: The History of our Nation’s Public Safety Network
FirstNet is a nationwide wireless broadband network for first responders being built and deployed through a first of its kind public-private partnership between the federal government and AT&T. FirstNet offers public safety a communications network built and customized to meet their needs.
The First Responder Network Authority is the federal entity charged with overseeing the creation and delivery of the FirstNet network. Housed within the Department of Commerce, National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the agency’s role is to ensure AT&T delivers on the terms of its contract and creates a network that meets the needs of public safety now and into the future.
2001: Public safety identifies a need
The September 11, 2001, attacks were one of the most devastating events in our nation’s history. The tragedy also revealed fundamental problems with the communications systems used by our nation’s first responders. The radio systems police, fire, and paramedics relied on could not easily operate across agencies, and during the crisis, land and mobile phone lines were overwhelmed by a high volume of calls.
2001-2012: Public safety advocates for its dedicated network
The communications challenges first responders faced that day were captured in the 9/11 Commission Report. The 2004 report identified gaps in emergency communications and recommended a nationwide network for public safety communications.
In the years after the report’s release, public safety organizations and associations came together to press Congress to pass legislation establishing a reliable, dedicated and national high-speed network for first responders.
2012: Congress creates the First Responder Network Authority
The First Responder Network Authority was created as part of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act (PUBLIC LAW 112–96), which was signed into law on February 22, 2012. The law allocated 20 megahertz of spectrum and $7 billion to establish a broadband network dedicated to the nation's first responders and gave the First Responder Network Authority the mandate to build, operate, and maintain that network. The inaugural meeting of the FirstNet Board took place on September 25, 2012.
2012: Consulting with public safety nationwide
The law that established the FirstNet Authority required it to consult with federal, state, tribal, and local public safety entities to ensure that the FirstNet network was designed to meet the needs of public safety across the country. From its 2012 founding through today, consultation is critical to everything at the FirstNet Authority. Consultation informed the Request for Proposal and shaped the State Plans that were issued to every U.S. state and territory. The FirstNet Authority will continue to engage with public safety to help them realize the operational benefits of the FirstNet Experience.
2016 - 2017: Forming an innovative public-private partnership
The Act that created the First Responder Network Authority required it to engage in an open, transparent, and competitive RFP process for the deployment of the network. Informed by years of public safety consultation and data collection, FirstNet issued its objectives-based RFP in January of 2016. FirstNet awarded an innovative 25-year contract to AT&T in March 2017.
2016 - 2017: Customized state buildout plans and 56 state/territory opt ins
The years FirstNet spent in consultation with states, territories, tribal governments, and public safety agencies at every level provided FirstNet with a better understanding of the needs of first responders nationwide. After forming its partnership with AT&T, the First Authority issued a customized, digital State Plan outlining how the FirstNet network would be deployed to the governor of each U.S. state and territory.
At the conclusion of the 90-day decision period, every U.S. governor opted to go with the FirstNet plan. The success of the State Plans process has enabled FirstNet to be deployed faster and truly interoperable. and nationwide.
2018: Launching the Network and Innovating for Public Safety
2018 was a landmark year for public safety communications. With FirstNet launching nationwide, The FirstNet Authority will continue to oversee the management of a successful partnership with AT&T centered on two pillars – fulfilling the contractual objectives and improving the FirstNet Solution through value-adding activities that enhance the FirstNet Experience
Today: A Catalyst for Public Safety
With the network expanding nationwide, the FirstNet Authority is working to ensure FirstNet meets public safety’s needs today and into the future. We will continue to engage, learn from, support, and advocate for the public safety community so that they benefit from the FirstNet Experience. Our objective is to create a differentiated experience for public safety by fostering an ecosystem and investing resources that advances the FirstNet Experience.
Learn more about how FirstNet is delivering for public safety on our FirstNet in Action page. Also see: