Fire, police, medical and other first responders in Kansas will gain dedicated wireless services in emergencies under the state’s FirstNet deal with AT&T.
Kansas became the 13th state to opt-in under AT&T’s FirstNet dedicated wireless broadband network for first responders. The Virgin Islands, a U.S. territory, also has opted in.
Gov. Sam Brownback announced the decision Tuesday in Topeka, accepting a proposal AT&T presented along with proposals to each state in June.
Under the plan with Kansas, AT&T will build, operate and maintain a broadband network without charge to the state through a public private partnership with the federally created First Responder Network Authority.
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First responders will gain access to the network by signing up as paying customers. First responders currently subscribe to AT&T, Verizon or other wireless service providers and communicate via phones, tablets and other mobile devices on the same networks as other consumers.
FirstNet emerged as a solution to communications problems during large emergencies such as the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001, tornadoes and other events. Heavy voice and data traffic swamped wireless networks and blocked first responders’ communications.
Traffic from First responders on the FirstNet network still will travel along side other wireless customers’ communications. But first responders on FirstNet will have a preemptive claim on network capacity, even knocking others out of service if needed. AT&T executives have called this feature “ruthless preemption.”
Missouri has not announced plans for a FirstNet network. States are able to opt in with AT&T or develop their own network compliant with FirstNet requirements.
Rivada Networks, a company that competed with AT&T for the national FirstNet contract, has contacted Kansas and other states with proposals to build out a compliant network. Rivada’s executive team includes former Sprint finance chief Joe Euteneuer as its co-CEO.
Verizon, which provides wireless voice and broadband services to many first responders, has said it plans to defend its share of the market despite the emergence of the FirstNet networks in states.
The emergence of FirstNet in Kansas under AT&T’s plan is expected to improve broadband coverage and service in rural areas and on tribal lands.
It also is expected to generate new apps and tools that fire, police, emergency medical and other first responders can use to improve their ability to save lives and protect those in need.
“There’s a whole host of things that are going to happen once this system gets built out,” said Dick Heitschmidt, chairman of the Kansas 9-1-1 Coordinating Council and Hutchinson, Kan., chief of police.