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10 Years FirstNet Authority

FirstNet at 10: A Decade of Dedication to Public Safety

February 22, 2022

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 U.S. 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% 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.

The public safety ecosystem includes more than 440 devices approved for use on FirstNet. The tech industry is designing these devices with ruggedized features to help stand up to the rigors and unique communications challenges of firefighting, policing, and emergency services.

More than 190 applications identified in the FirstNet App Catalog provide important public safety capabilities. For example, one app integrates with Z-Axis for FirstNet, a solution that gives enhanced location services including the vertical location or z-axis of first responders. If firefighters get disoriented in a burning multi-story building, they can be located to the height above ground to help pinpoint their location and get help more quickly.

Innovating during the pandemic

Like the rest of the world, first responders had to make drastic changes when COVID-19 hit. FirstNet supported public safety on the frontlines of the pandemic, providing connectivity for pop-up vaccination clinics, field hospitals, temporary testing sites, and remote work locations. And, when faced with adversity, the public safety community innovated. For example, when the New Hampshire Department of Safety set up a large vaccination clinic at a racetrack, staff were issued “go-kits” with FirstNet-enabled devices, cameras, batteries, and other technologies to coordinate the event.

Looking to the future

The FirstNet Authority is responsible for continuing to look at ways to enhance the network for first responders. In 2021, the FirstNet Authority Board directed investments to enable initial access to 5G for FirstNet. 5G is a major development for public safety communications because it will provide peak data speeds, higher throughput capability, and improved latency.

The public safety community has long envisioned an interoperable broadband network to meet the demands of its mission. The legislation we celebrate today promised to make that a reality. Ten years later, the FirstNet Authority has made significant progress delivering on public safety’s vision.

We still have work to do. As we look to the future, we will continue to engage with the public safety community to expand and enhance the benefits of broadband for public safety communications.


Learn more about how FirstNet is transforming public safety communications — contact your local FirstNet Authority Public Safety Advisor and sign up for our discipline newsletters. Follow us on TwitterFacebookInstagram, and LinkedIn for the latest FirstNet Authority updates.

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