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FirstNet dangles $16B of investment for rural expansion of public safety network

On the heels of scoring a nationwide build out deal with AT&T, FirstNet CEO Michael Poth told CCA members the organization would have billions more to invest.

LAS VEGAS – Coming off a major milestone for the First Responder Network Authority, FirstNet CEO Michael Poth told attendees at this week’s Competitive Carriers Association Mobile Carriers Show a lot of work remained in the organization’s efforts to establish a nationwide public safety network.

Following years of work – and more recently months of legal wrangling – FirstNet last week announced a deal with AT&T to be the nationwide telecommunications partner in deploying the LTE-based public safety network. The agreement calls for FirstNet to bring its $6.5 billion in funding and 20 megahertz of spectrum in the 700 MHz band to the table, with AT&T spending $40 billion over the next 25 years to build and support FirstNet services.

In speaking to CCA members, Poth explained that while the nationwide agreement was a big step for the organization, rural operators remain a key component to FirstNet’s stated plans of nationwide coverage. Poth said FirstNet would gain $18 billion in payments from AT&T as part of the contract, with approximately $16 billion of that set to be reinvested in the network in order to expand coverage.

Poth said most of that investment would likely be in rural areas, with at least 20 rural operators already set to participate in the first wave of network deployment. Details on those operators and timeline for coverage is set to be unveiled in the next three weeks.

For those operators not included in the first wave, Poth said there were still opportunities for rural carriers to get involved, and encouraged those interested to reach out to AT&T and “establish that relationship.” FirstNet also committed to taking those requests directly and working to connect rural carriers with the people at AT&T in order to facilitate broader rural coverage. AT&T is currently one of the few domestic carriers not a member of CCA.

Poth also took time to address the recent court challenge brought by Rivada Mercury as part of the contract process, noting the judge in the case had not heard of FirstNet before the proceedings began, but decided the public safety organization had taken into account all risks and challenges in deploying the network as part of the contact process.

“Even the court realized the process we went about to select the solution and vendor was paramount as we were picking a solution for first responders,” Poth said.

Mercury Rivada filed a lawsuit against FirstNet protesting its exclusion from the competitive range of the contract.

FirstNet has been a frequent speaker at CCA events, including holding a summit at the trade group’s Global Expo event in 2013.

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