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GMA Assists Cities in Understanding FirstNet

November 29, 2017
This article appeared in the November 2017 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
FirstNet is an independent authority within the National Telecommunica­tions and Information Administration of the United States Department of Commerce. It has a mission to develop, build and operate a nationwide broadband network that will equip all manners of first responders with the technology to help save lives and protect communities. It was first authorized by Congress in 2012 and was allotted 20 MHz of radio spectrum to build the network. Learn more below about FirstNet and how it will apply to specific cities.
Why did Congress find FirstNet necessary?
During 9/11 some communications systems were severely limited due to the high volume of people attempting to utilize network capacity. By dedicating 20 MHz of spectrum towards the creation of FirstNet, Congress is attempt­ing to provide a platform for first responders, such as police, fire and para­medics to have the capability to communicate quickly and efficiently in cri­sis situations, without the possibility of interference from civilian network traffic. Under the current state of affairs, there are thousands of different and incompatible networks and systems in use by first responders, which could make communications extremely difficult in emergencies.
What will FirstNet cover and who is building and managing it?
The FirstNet network will cover all fifty states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories. AT&T was selected by the federal government to build and manage the FirstNet network earlier this year as part of the public-private partnership model desired.
What is the State of Georgia doing in regards to FirstNet?
Like every other state, Georgia was tasked with determining whether to opt-in or opt-out of the FirstNet plan. Each state has a point of contact who can help your city understand the state’s decision-making process. Find out more about Georgia’s process and Georgia’s point of contact.
Will we be required to use FirstNet?
No. Jurisdictions may be able to decline purchase of services from FirstNet. There is no legal obligation to subscribe to services provided by FirstNet. However, a city needs to evaluate not participating very carefully because it may isolate the city’s first responders in terms of communications in the event of an emergency. Additionally, at least one other telecommunica­tions provider has announced plans to build a separate dedicated network for public safety. This network and any other independent public safety network will be required to operate reciprocally with FirstNet.
What should municipalities be doing?
Cities should pay close attention to FirstNet’s deployment, particularly here in Georgia, making note of timelines and implications for any local decisions that may need to be made. Additionally, cities should inventory potential assets such as hardware, software and infrastructure they may currently have as well as the current contracts for service. Cities would be wise to educate themselves of Georgia’s FirstNet process and analyze the city’s own needs and contracts as FirstNet and other potentially similar offerings take off.