ORLANDO, Fla.–FirstNet CEO Mike Poth missed last year’s International Wireless Communications Expo because the First Responders Network Authority’s 25-year contract with AT&T for a national public safety broadband network was in the process of initial execution. This year, he was on-stage giving a keynote about the progress that FirstNet and AT&T have made since.

Poth emphasized how rapidly FirstNet and AT&T are moving now, six years after the law was passed to establish FirstNet and after several years of outreach to develop a network plan, outline a contract and award it. The partners put up their state plan portal and delivered plans three months ahead of schedule, Poth said, then spent the next few months working with the states on finalizing state-level coverage. Ultimately, all 56 states and territories opted in to FirstNet, which Poth called “a momentous day” — not only because of the opt-in themselves, he said, but because “it ensures that the vision and the goal of a nationwide public safety broadband network would be realized.”

AT&T immediately made its network available to FirstNet customers and by the end of last year, had instituted priority and preemption for FirstNet customers on its commercial network. Poth said that about 300 agencies are using FirstNet access. In the meantime, FirstNet and AT&T have been working on FirstNet-specific network infrastructure: AT&T has been constructing the FirstNet Evolved Packet Core, Poth said, and plans to make it operational within the next month, and FirstNet-specific network operations and network security centers are in the work. Poth said that a FirstNet team is currently on the ground at an AT&T facility to “kick the tires on this core” and that the core will be “exhaustively” tested over about a month in order to ensure that it performs as expected.

“This network is too critical, not to get it right,” Poth said.

In addition, Poth noted, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration just last week announced the availability of up to $43.4 million in grant funding for states and territories to continue FirstNet planning and preparation. According to NTIA, that funding is from a program originally awarded in 2013 and 2014 to the tune of $116.5 million which supported outreach and states’ consultations with FirstNet, and the $43.4 million consists of unspent funds that are now up for grabs again.

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