Frequently Asked Questions

What is FirstNet?

In 2012, Congress established the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) – an independent government authority within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). Its mission is to cost-effectively create the first high-speed wireless, broadband data network dedicated to public safety. FirstNet will be a single, nationwide network that facilities communication for public safety users during emergencies as well as daily operations. Think of FirstNet as a bigger, more reliable, secure and resilient “wireless pipe.” This new network will be public safety-grade, providing access to applications and coverage where public safety needs it more.


Why was FirstNet created?

After 9/11, the public safety community fought hard to fulfill the 9/11 Commission’s last standing recommendation and convince Congress that it needed a dedicated, reliable network to provide advanced data communication capabilities nationwide. During emergencies, public safety requires priority service and preemption.


What are the duties and responsibilities of the FirstNet Authority?

The First Responder Network Authority shall hold the single public safety wireless license granted and take all actions necessary to ensure the building, deployment, and operation of the NPSBN, in consultation with Federal, State, tribal, and local public safety entities, the Director of NIST, the Commission, and the public safety advisory committee. These shall include:

  • ensuring nationwide standards for use and access of the network; ensuring nationwide standards for use and access of the network;

  • issuing open, transparent, and competitive requests for proposals to private sector entities for the purposes of building, operating, and maintaining the network;

  • encouraging that such requests leverage existing commercial wireless infrastructure to speed deployment of the network; and

  • managing and overseeing the implementation and execution of contracts or agreements with non-Federal entities to build, operate, and maintain the network.


What will be possible with FirstNet?

Initially, FirstNet will be used to send data, such as maps, video, images, and text and to run public safety apps and make non- mission critical cellular-quality voice calls. Mission critical voice will continue to use Land Mobile Radio (LMR) technology for the foreseeable future. Using a 4G LTE platform, FirstNet will save time during emergencies when seconds count, improve situational awareness and decision-making, and save money for states by leveraging nationwide purchasing power and economies of scale. Since the general public is not on this network, responders do not have to compete for data usage. Using FirstNet can help save lives, solve crimes and keep our communities and emergency responders safer.


How will states and agencies participate in the build out of FirstNet?

To make FirstNet a nationwide network, all states must have a local radio access network (RAN) that connects to the FirstNet core. FirstNet is responsible for working through the designated state point of contact to consult with states, local communities, tribal governments, and first responders to gather requirements for developing its RAN deployment plan. If the FirstNet plan is accepted by a state, FirstNet will construct the RAN. If a state prefers to build its own RAN, the state must secure FCC approval and may seek funding support from NTIA. State-built RANs must meet FirstNet security, hardening and interoperability requirements.


What is FirstNet’s build out timeline?

FirstNet officials hope to select a contractor and ink a 25-year deal by Nov. 1, 2016. Within six month of signing the deal, the contractor must provide service with coverage to 95 percent of the U.S. population using non-Band 14 airwaves—which means that a nationwide wireless carrier must be part of the contractor team, according to many observers. Six months after the deal is signed, FirstNet and the contractor must present a deployment plan for each of the 50 states and 6 territories/districts that outlines how and when the FirstNet system will provide coverage in each jurisdiction.

If a governor approves the FirstNet plan or takes no action within 90 days of the plan being presented, the contractor could begin construction of the Band 14 network as early as next summer.

One year after the contractor deal is signed, 20 percent of the planned Band 14 coverage is supposed to be complete. After two years, 60 percent of the coverage is scheduled to be done. After three years, 80 percent of the coverage is slated to be finished, and 95percent of the planned network coverage is supposed to be operational at the four-year mark.


How can I find out when FirstNet service will be available in a city or county?

Officially, this information will not be available until the FirstNet state deployment plan is finalized and accepted by the governor (or the state formulates its own deployment plan under the “opt-out” provision”). If FirstNet meets its proposed timeline, the finalized state plan could be available in late July 2017. However, unofficial versions of the FirstNet state plan may be available to specific individuals earlier.

FirstNet and the winning contractor will develop a draft deployment plan for each state and territory, which will provide the first clue of the potential deployment timeline in each jurisdiction. This draft plan will be shared with the state’s single point of contact (SPOC) and will be subject to review by the SPOC and a group of individuals selected by the SPOC.


How much will FirstNet cost?

FirstNet will build, operate, and maintain the network, but local users can expect to pay user fees. FirstNet intends to offer services at a compelling and competitive cost to attract millions of public safety users and make FirstNet self-sustaining. The use of FirstNet services and applications will be voluntary. The costs for FirstNet services and devices have not yet been set.


Will public-safety agencies face other costs related to using the FirstNet system?

Yes. As is the case with commercial-network subscriptions, user devices and applications will need to be purchased separately. FirstNet’s RFP calls for the contractor to support Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) access to the FirstNet system, which could be particularly important to volunteer departments.


How could FirstNet impact a smart-cities strategy?

Smart-cities technology promise significant benefits and operational efficiencies, but they require a network that ensures robust, reliable communications between key infrastructure, sensors and personnel. That’s especially true for public safety, which has learned it cannot depend on traditional commercial-networks’ availability because it be damaged physically or may be saturated by commercial customers trying to communicate during times of emergencies. With FirstNet, public-safety users are expected to have immediate priority on a hardened network designed to provide a reliable option for first responders to use even after a significant incident. 


Are public-safety agencies required to subscribe to FirstNet services?

Public-safety entities have no legal obligation to subscribe to services provided by FirstNet.


Will FirstNet be a data-only network, or will it also offer voice services?

FirstNet’s initial deployments will provide public-safety subscribers with LTE data and commercial-grade voice. Mission-critical push-to-talk (MCPTT) services are scheduled to available on the FirstNet system two years after the contractor award is made, likely in late 2018 or early 2019.


Will FirstNet replace existing public-safety land-mobile-radio (LMR) systems?

Eventually, it could—the global MCPTT standard is designed to provide all functionality of current LMR system, as well as additional features not available in LMR. However, note that this MCPTT standard was only approved in March, so compliant equipment still needs to be developed. In addition, public-safety officials want the technology to be tested thoroughly before using it in real-world life-and-death situations.

FirstNet officials say the organization plans only to make the MCPTT available on its network, but each subscribing public-safety agency will have to determine when—if ever—it wants to rely on FirstNet MCPTT services for mission-critical voice communications.

In the meantime, FirstNet’s broadband system and traditional LMR communications are expected to coexist for some time. With this in mind, FirstNet and PSCR are working with vendors to develop solutions that will enable integrated communications between the LTE and LMR networks.


Who qualifies as a “public-safety entity” that is eligible to receive prioritized access and most-favorable pricing?

Fire, law-enforcement and emergency-medical-service (EMS) personnel will receive these benefits, but FirstNet’s contractor will determine if any other sectors—for instance, hospitals and utilities—also are considered “public-safety entities.”


Many people reference an “opt-out” alternative associated with FirstNet. What is that?


Under the law that created FirstNet, the governor in all 50 states and 6 territories will have the choice of (1) accepting FirstNet’s plan to build the network within the state’s borders, or (2) pursuing the “opt-out” alternative, which requires the state to build and maintain the radio access network (RAN)—the cell sites and backhaul transport from the sites—within the state while using the FirstNet core network.

Many have criticized the “opt-out” provision as misnomer, because a state cannot choose to not have the FirstNet system built within its jurisdiction. The only choice is whether FirstNet builds and maintains the RAN, or if the state is responsible for the RAN.

If FirstNet builds the RAN, the state/territory has no financial obligations regarding the network.

Under the “opt-out” alternative, the state/territory assumes financial responsibility for building and maintaining the RAN, which includes making technology upgrades—on FirstNet’s schedule—that are designed to ensure nationwide interoperability and security. In addition, the state/territory will have to pay FirstNet for the use of its core network and spectrum.

Revenues generated within an opt-out state can be used to pay for RAN-related costs and to pay FirstNet, but FirstNet’s legal interpretation is that the state cannot keep excess revenues. Meanwhile, if the opt-out network’s revenues were not enough to meet the RAN and FirstNet obligations, the state would have to address the shortfall with funds from taxpayers or another source.


When will governors make their “opt-out” decisions?

Governors will need to make their choice within 90 days of receiving the state plan—probably in late July or August of 2017, if the contractor award is made on Nov. 1 of this year, as scheduled. If the governor takes no action within the 90-day period, FirstNet will proceed with its deployment plans in the state or territory.

If a governor decides to pursue the “opt-out” alternative, the state or territory has to take a series of steps with very challenging timelines before the state can begin deploying the RAN within its borders. FirstNet officials have estimated that the logistics associated with the “opt-out” alternative would delay deployment in a state or territory by two years when compared to FirstNet being allowed to deploy the RAN.

Officials for cities and counties who want to provide input about their governor’s “opt-out” decision should contact the state’s SPOC to get information about the best steps to take.


What is public safety broadband?

Public Safety Broadband is similar to the data service most people purchase through commercial carriers, but it is dedicated to public safety professionals. Many of us have participated in events where high congestion caused us to be unable to post pictures, send texts or access applications that we use on a regular basis. Sometimes we can’t even get calls to go through.  Our public safety officials experience the same lack of access as the general public and during those times are unable to access critical data such as criminal justice information, computer-aided dispatch, etc. The Public Safety Broadband Network (PSBN) will be a cellular data network that uses the same technology as the commercial carriers but operates in a frequency spectrum dedicated to public safety; this assures that first responders have access to critical data and applications especially during incident response when commercial carriers are saturated and least reliable.  In addition to creating FirstNet to oversee the deployment of the NPSBN, Congress allocated an additional 10 MHz of spectrum in the 700 MHz D-block thus providing a full 20MHz dedicated to public safety’s mobile data needs. The technology selected for the NPSBN is Long-Term Evolution (LTE) and will be deployed in Band Class 14.


What is LTE?

Long-Term Evolution (LTE), a 3GPP standard technology, is the technology selected for the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN). This is the same broadband cellular technology used by the major carriers. There are numerous advantages for selecting standards-based versus proprietary technology. Some of those advantages include:

·    Intrinsic interoperability

·    More diversity of devices

·    Lower cost of devices

·    Multi-band device capability for carrier roaming

·    Forward & backward compatibility of devices

Many public safety organizations are familiar with the high cost of building and maintaining Land-Mobile Radio systems. They are also familiar with the high costs and technical challenges associated with achieving interoperability across different systems. By selecting a single standard for broadband deployment, public safety will be able to avoid the technological and financial obstacles of achieving and maintaining interoperable data communications networks.


Why not just use existing commercial LTE coverage?

Commercial LTE networks are market-driven, built based upon profit models.  Public safety use of LTE must rely upon a different model; one that values priority access, places an emphasis on group communication, provides coverage in rural and underserved areas, and builds reliability, resiliency and security into the network and user devices. 


What are the 3GPP standards?

According to, "The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) unites six telecommunications standard development organizations (ARIB, ATIS, CCSA, ETSI, TTA, TTC), known as "Organizational Partners" and provides their members with a stable environment to produce the Reports and Specifications that define 3GPP technologies." 3GPP is the common standard that allows cellular networks to interface with each other seamlessly and therefore is an important part of the future FirstNet network because FirstNet will be able to interoperate with cellular networks when needed.


What are your main goals in planning this network? 

1. Coverage – build the network where public safety needs it most. 

2. Reliability — public safety can bet their lives on it. 

3. Resiliency — multiple back-up options and there when you need it. 

4. Build a network that can be a trusted resource for public safety.


Who owns the D-Block spectrum?

The single, nationwide license was granted to FirstNet by the Federal Communications Commission.


How will local control be established?

FirstNet is currently working with the Public Safety Advisory Council to create options.  No information is currently available, but local control is being addressed as part of the plan.


What is “spectrum?”

Spectrum refers to the radio frequency in a specific band. When the public had to move to digital TV, that frequency (700 MHZ/Band-14) was given to FirstNet to manage for Public Safety.


What standards are being used to design the network?

The law that established FirstNet specified that the network shall be based on the minimum technical requirements on the commercial standards for Long Term Evolution (LTE) service.  LTE is the evolution of a proven technology, which is now in its fourth generation.  With each generation comes improvement in speed and functionality.  Standards work to enhance and evolve 4G LTE is continuing on a global basis.  FirstNet is involved in the standards process and working closely with public safety organizations to support the development of standards and functionality that meet the needs of the public safety users that FirstNet will serve.


Once it’s built out, what will subscribers have to pay?

No pricing models exist.  FirstNet would be a new wireless data provider. You will decide if you want to subscribe or stay with your current data plan/provider. If there isn’t a comparable value proposition, you aren’t compelled to sign on.


What about other users: if there is high network demand in Florida, does it affect Georgia?

No. This is a local high-speed wireless data network and capacity is local.


Will FirstNet have day-to-day Value? Can I use this on a daily basis?



How will FirstNet keep this up to date and ensure it won’t be obsolete before the network is deployed?

For the first time, public safety communications will be based on commercial standards.  Among the potential benefits include lower costs, consumer-driven economies of scale, and rapid evolution of advanced communication capabilities.