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FirstNet Connects Tens of Thousands of New England Subscribers, Supports Public Safety and Healthcare During COVID-19 Pandemic

July 29, 2020
News Media Contact: Candice (202) 510-7505

This press release originally appeared on AT&T FirstNet Newsroom.

The FirstNet® network – built with AT&T in a public-private partnership with the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) - continues to make a big impact across New England. Tens of thousands of first responders across New England are now subscribed to FirstNet bringing them the prioritized connectivity, reliability, and accountability they trust to carry out their mission.

And to help ensure first responders have as much coverage and capacity as possible, as well as a dedicated lane of connectivity whenever they need it, we’ve deployed Band 14 spectrum – nationwide, high-quality spectrum set aside by the U.S. government specifically for FirstNet – in areas across New England. This VIP communications lane coupled with always-ready access means FirstNet subscribers are protected against commercial traffic congestion. That’s unique in the industry and something public safety won’t get anywhere but on the FirstNet network.

The events of Sept. 11, 2001 changed the world as we knew it. Lives were lost, major economic and societal impacts struck the nation, and first responders’ inability to talk with one another in an emergency was exposed. This is what led to the creation of FirstNet – the only nationwide, high-speed broadband communications platform dedicated to and purpose-built for America’s first responders and the extended public safety community. And now, it's helping New England first responders connect to the critical information they need – every day and in every emergency.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, FirstNet has been at the ready to support public safety across New England.

Major Medical Centers

Devices were provided to Yale New Haven Medical Centers, SouthShore Hospital, the City of Boston, Boston Hope Field Hospital and many other COVID-19 care facilities throughout New England.

In Bar Harbor Maine, FirstNet deployed a mobile satellite cell tower to Mount Desert Island Hospital to maintain emergency communications during the influx of COVID-19 patients.

“Serving an Island community is challenging, within the first few days of the COVID-19 lockdown, AT&T reached out to offer support. When we reported that our Emergency Department had poor to no cellular signal, the FirstNet team went into action. Within days we received a portable tower, repeaters and a superb cell signal in our Emergency Room,” said Will Houston, Manager of IT Security at Mount Desert Island Hospital.

Filmmaker, actor and Newton, MA native John Krasinski announced the FirstNet Nurses and Doctors Appreciation Offer on his digital show “Some Good News,” where he covers only positive news from around the world.

When they found out we were honoring our healthcare heroes, AT&T reached out and asked how they could help. I said maybe you could cover the cell phone bills of every doctor and nurse in America for a month. Their response: how about three?! Yep you heard that right, every single nurse and doctor in this country, three months free!”

“Now I may not know much, but I do know what good news sounds like,” Krasinski added.

Testing Facilities

At Yale University in Connecticut, FirstNet deployed a mobile satellite celltower to help ensure reliable communication for a pop-up testing site and nearby medical centers during the crisis. The state governments of Vermont and New Hampshire and the State of Rhode Island Emergency Management activated hundreds of additional FirstNet Ready™ devices for their COVID-19 response.

During New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu’s COVID-19 press conference he noted “Our FirstNet mobile system and communication response system is allowing better connectivity with broadband and cellular service in those areas that typically had worse service.”

“The City of Chelsea had one of the largest concentrations of COVID-19 cases in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. We turned to FirstNet to provide connectivity at the Command Post at our COVID-19 quarantine shelter site,” said Steve Staffier, Director of City of Chelsea Emergency Management/Communications. “FirstNet was quick to deliver the devices I needed to connect my team.”

Additional Emergency Support

In Milton, New Hampshire, the Milton Fire Department was able to locate the exact location of a forest fire in Pineland Park on March 31st, during the height of the pandemic, using a Strafford County Sheriff’s drone on FirstNet.

“Utilizing the drone with FirstNet we were able to quickly and accurately pinpoint where the fire was and dispatch units to the appropriate locations to quickly bring the fire under control. This part of Milton has marginal coverage, but we were able to stream video to everyone who needed it without any issues,” said Captain Justin Bellen, Milton Fire Department. “Strafford County Sheriff has been on FirstNet for over a year, not only do they use it for the drone, but all of their phones, tablets, and laptops are on FirstNet as well. We had multiple supervisors in the county on FirstNet devices watching the operation live while it was ongoing.”

In Brookline, Massachusetts, police officers responded to a call in a building and lost radio communications. Dispatch was trying to update the officers with additional information, but due to their location, they were unable to communicate with dispatch or other responding units. A Sergeant arrived on the scene with his FirstNet device with push-to-talk and was able to communicate with dispatch using FirstNet and update the officers on the scene who could not communicate over the portable radios.

“It’s an easy application to learn and utilize. Our officers who are using FirstNet and push-to-talk have been giving me a lot of good feedback and they are pretty excited about it,” said Scott Wilder, Director of Technology for Brookline Police Department. Mr. Wilder and Brookline PD have been using FirstNet since 2018 and recalls the problems with network congestion which occurred during the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. “That was tough, we had a lot of things going on and we lost our wireless, we had no cellular for a while,” Wilder said. “If that happened today, we’d be able to communicate. Communications would not be interrupted.”

In Ashland, Massachusetts a commuter train collided with an automobile causing a prolonged delay and hundreds of commuters to take to their cell phones. The Police Chief was unable to provide updates to the Town Manager over his cell phone due to network congestion. The next day, Ashland began the process to implement FirstNet devices. “We are happy we made the change to FirstNet,” Susan Robie, Executive Assistant, Town of Ashland.

“The need for a single nationwide broadband network for public safety was exemplified during the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and subsequent manhunt. I am proud to see AT&T and the FirstNet Authority are following through on their commitment to first responders in Massachusetts,” said Ed Davis, former Boston Police Commissioner. “FirstNet has already deployed Band 14 in over 280 cities and towns in the Commonwealth. FirstNet has enabled Boston Fire Department, Chelsea, Beverly and many other agencies to use state of the art communications and enhance public safety. With thousands of subscribers across Massachusetts, FirstNet is providing first responders with a highly secure interoperable broadband network.”

“In order to most effectively and efficiently serve the public and address public safety crises, first responders need and deserve reliable coverage no matter where they are in New England. With FirstNet, that’s exactly what they’re getting,” said Patricia Jacobs, President, AT&T Northern Region. “Our AT&T and FirstNet team here in New England will continue to work closely with state and local officials and agencies to continue expanding this unique public safety resource. We couldn’t be more pleased to support the public safety mission and bring our region’s first responders – and residents – greater access to the connectivity they need.”

As public safety’s communications network partner, we’re helping deliver on the vision of Congress and the first responder community. With dedicated, advanced services built to mission-critical standards interoperating across agencies and jurisdictions, custom apps and devices built for law enforcement, fire and EMS, it’s clear FirstNet stands above best-effort commercial offerings. And more than 12,000 public safety agencies and organizations – accounting for over 1.3 million connections nationwide – would agree.