A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. A 1,945 day journey to a nationwide cellular network for first responders begins on a single day, February 22, 2012, when Congress passes the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, and comes to a waypoint on June 19, 2017. On that first day, Congress created the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet). On the last day, today, FirstNet published a definitive plan for each state detailing how the network will be deployed in that state.
Oh, you can quibble about the dates. Perhaps the starting date should be in 1997 when the FCC set aside spectrum for use in creating a cellular network for public safety. And you can argue that “delivery of a plan” is not deploying a network.
But I’m going to count February 22, 2012, as the starting date, because that’s when this network became possible, because Congress funded it and created an agency to make it happen. And I’ll count June 19, 2017, as the ending date, because these “state plans” are much more than plans. They are an “on” switch for FirstNet.
All a state Governor need do is “flip the switch” to “on” and immediately FirstNet becomes a reality in that state.
I always believed – since I became involved in this work in 2008 – that deploying a network with priority for first responders would take many years. I thought it would be an arduous process of acquiring cell sites, putting antennas and electronics at those sites, stringing fiber optic cable between them, and then slowly, one-by-one, lighting up each site to put it on the air. Just like the long, painful, process of deploying the first cellular networks in the 1980s.
But it isn’t. Turning on FirstNet is as simple as a Governor signing a letter which says, “go do it”.
The Governor doesn’t have to commit any funds or make any commitments. No public safety agencies in a state have to use FirstNet – they are free to choose other networks. But if those agencies want priority above all other users, if they want a dedicated help desk, a customized app store, end-to-end security and all the other benefits, they can sign up with AT&T and get it.
All it takes is a simple signature by a Governor, and a miracle occurs.
P.S. To see the plan, go here.