The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) annual report to Congress for Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 highlights the FirstNet Authority’s operations, activities, financial condition and accomplishments over the past fiscal year. Released on April 27, the report recaps a year of continued progress under the theme of “Connecting Communities” as we highlight how FirstNet, the nationwide public safety wireless broadband network, continues to be built and designed with public safety input in mind.
The report also shows how FirstNet is helping our nation’s first responders save lives by keeping communities connected and protected. We are seeing more public safety agencies and individual first responders adopt FirstNet every day. In this year’s report, we are proud to highlight FirstNet in Action — a compilation of use cases from across the country showing how first responders are using the network. From everyday use in Signal Mountain, Tennessee, and Riviera Beach, Florida, to the most critical situations, staying connected before and after Hurricane Dorian along the East Coast of the United States, FirstNet supports those on the frontlines of emergency response.
Throughout FY 2019, the FirstNet Authority made significant progress fulfilling its mission and influencing the future of public safety broadband communications by achieving key accomplishments:
Oversight of the FirstNet Contract: The FirstNet Authority provided oversight to our contract partner, AT&T, as we saw major progress in the deployment and adoption of the FirstNet network. One of our major milestones to date, in December 2019, AT&T announced that the network made its one-millionth network connection with more than 10,000 public safety agencies and organizations — indicating that first responders are gaining unprecedented access to FirstNet’s reliable LTE coverage and increased capacity to support emergency response. By the end of FY 2019, Band 14 had launched in 650 markets across the country. The FirstNet Authority verifies and validates AT&T’s progress on the network buildout, including the achievement of rural milestones. The FirstNet ecosystem of devices and apps also continued to flourish with more than 100 devices approved and certified for use on the FirstNet network along with more than 100 applications identified in the FirstNet App Catalog by September 2019.
FirstNet Roadmap: In August 2019, we released the FirstNet Roadmap to document the top priorities for the network’s future innovation and investment. The Roadmap, developed with public safety, industry, government and AT&T input, outlines public safety’s operational needs and technology trends for mobile broadband communications during the next five years. The Roadmap is structured around six domains, representing network capabilities that are vital to public safety operations. These domains will help the FirstNet Authority prioritize its programs, resources, investments and partnership activities. Combined with our ongoing consultation with public safety stakeholders, the Roadmap has provided a clear vision for our network investment strategy.
FirstNet Investment Strategy: In FY 2019, the FirstNet Authority’s investment plan started to take shape, and in September 2019, the FirstNet Board approved two investments opportunities to enhance FirstNet: 1) expand FirstNet’s dedicated deployable network assets during emergencies and planned events; and 2) initiate upgrades to the FirstNet core to enable 5G network capabilities. Both investment opportunities align with the Roadmap and reflect public safety’s most critical network and mobile broadband technology needs. We continue to work towards completing these investments for public safety’s network in 2020.
Nationwide Public Safety Engagement: In 2019, the FirstNet Authority conducted more than 1,100 engagements with public safety agencies, reaching nearly 33,000 public safety stakeholders across the country. These engagements continued to raise awareness of the FirstNet program and helped us gain valuable feedback on first responder’s needs for the network, which is then used to develop and build the network with public safety in mind. Our work with first responders and the feedback we received on the FirstNet network is invaluable. It helps FirstNet grow in a manner that best reflects public safety’s specific communication needs, and this engagement will continue to be the foundation of our work.
As we move forward, we will continue to work closely with public safety to improve their network. Through our public-private partnership with AT&T, the FirstNet Authority Roadmap, and our continued consultation with public safety and other stakeholders, we have the tools to transform the future of public safety communications.
We look forward to our continued work and collaboration with the public safety community and all interested stakeholders to continue to advance FirstNet for America’s first responders and continue our work to connect communities in 2020.
Tom Shull is director of government affairs at the First Responder Network Authority.