Frequently Asked Questions

What is FirstNet?

In 2012, Congress established the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) - an independent government authority within the U.S. Department of Commerce, National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), and overseen by representatives of public safety, government and the wireless industry

The First Responder Network Authority, or FirstNet, will be the first high-speed wireless, broadband data network dedicated to public safety.

FirstNet will be a single, nationwide network that facilitates communication for public safety users during emergencies and 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 most.

FirstNet is being designed to improve communication among local, state, regional, tribal and national emergency services personnel. The broadband data network will help save lives and protect the health and safety of all Americans. It will be built using Long Term Evolution (LTE), the most advanced wireless technology available today. FirstNet fulfills a fundamental need of the public safety community for a single, mission-critical communications system enabling force multiplier effectiveness.

What is the purpose of FirstNet?

FirstNet exists to serve first responders and the public safety community with dedicated, highly reliable, nationwide wireless data services, applications and user devices, at the lowest possible costs.

What role does FirstNet play?

The "Spectrum Act" legislation created the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet). FirstNet is charged with establishing a nationwide public safety broadband network based on a single, national network architecture. FirstNet has the authority to take all actions necessary to ensure the design, construction, deployment, and operations of the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN). FirstNet will consult with Federal, State, tribal, and local public safety entities as part of their efforts.

The federal FirstNet organization is headed by a 15-member board comprised of representatives from public safety; local, state and federal government; and the wireless industry. FirstNet will also establish network deployment phases that will include substantial rural coverage milestones for each phase of the network construction and deployment. FirstNet will look at special considerations for areas or regions with unique homeland security or national security needs. FirstNet will consult with a Single Point of Contact (SPOC) in each state, designated by the Governor of that state.

The Spectrum Act legislation provides a $135 Million State and Local Implementation Grant Program (SLIGP) to be administered through the NTIA. These funds are set aside by NTIA to assist State, regional, tribal, and local jurisdictions to identify, plan, and implement the most efficient and effective means to use and integrate infrastructure, equipment, and other architecture associated with the NPSBN to satisfy the wireless broadband and data services needs of the jurisdictions. A 20% local match will be required for any grant funds awarded by NTIA. The State of Maine's ConnectME Authority serves as the coordinating agency for implementation of the SLIGP funds in Maine, under the guidance of Maine Interoperable Communications Committee (MICC).

Creation of FirstNet timeline and activities

Public Safety Priority

The passage of legislation to reallocate spectrum was top legislative priority of every public safety association in the United States growing out of the tragedies of 9/11 and Katrina. On September 11, 1996, five years before the 9/11 terrorist attack which occurred in 2001, the Public Safety Wireless Advisory Committee (PSWAC) released its final report, which stated, "unless immediate measures are taken to alleviate spectrum shortfall and promote interoperability, public safety will not be able to adequately discharge their obligation to protect life and property in a safe, efficient, and cost-effective manner."

Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012

Law created First Responder Network Authority or FirstNet, an independent authority under NTIA/Dept. of Commerce.

  • 700 MHz "D Block" spectrum was reallocated to public safety; License for public safety broadband given to "FirstNet."

FirstNet Funding

$2 billion immediately available and a total of $7 billion that will eventually be allocated to FirstNet for network construction.

State Planning Funds

Up to $135 million in State and Local Implementation Grant Program (SLIGP) is provided by the NTIA to help State planning efforts in support of FirstNet consultation.

Opt In/Opt Out Provision

States have the opportunity to opt-out of the FirstNet network deployment plan and develop their own Radio Access Network (RAN), which must connect to the FirstNet core, with FCC and NTIA approval.

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. Users will get fast access to information they need to meet their mission.

FirstNet will also give incident commanders and local officials control over the network so, for example, they can assign users and talk groups and determine who can access applications. Unlike commercial wireless networks, FirstNet will allow for priority access among public safety users since the general public is not on this network, responders do not have to compete for data usage.

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.

Why was FirstNet created?

On September 11, 1996, five years before the 9/11 terrorist attack which occurred in 2001, the Public Safety Wireless Advisory Committee (PSWAC) released its final report, which stated, "unless immediate measures are taken to alleviate spectrum shortfall and promote interoperability, public safety will not be able to adequately discharge their obligation to protect life and property in a safe, efficient, and cost-effective manner."

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 communications capabilities nationwide. During emergencies, public safety requires priority service and preemption.

How will FirstNet benefit public safety?

The use of FirstNet will improve situational awareness and decision-making. Just as Smartphones have changed our personal lives, FirstNet devices and applications will ultimately change the way public safety operates.

FirstNet will ensure mobile coverage and save time during emergencies when seconds count. FirstNet will save money for states by leveraging nationwide purchasing power and scale economies. Using FirstNet will help save lives, solve crimes and keep our communities and emergency responders safer.

How will states and agencies participate in the buildout 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 SPOC 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 and NTIA approval and may seek funding support from NTIA. State-built RANs must meet FirstNet security, hardening and interoperability requirements and connect to the FirstNet core.

When will FirstNet be fully implemented and operational?

Currently, FirstNet and states are participating in the planning and outreach phase, which is expected to be complete by mid-2016. Once planning is complete, FirstNet will move forward with implementation. A final completion date has not yet been determined.

What will users pay for FirstNet services?

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.

What is First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) singular focus?

The First Responder Network Authority shall hold the single public safety wireless license and take all actions necessary to ensure the building, deployment, and operation of the NPSBN.

What is the Purpose of SCIPs?

Statewide Communication Interoperability Plans (SCIPs) are locally-driven, multi-jurisdictional, and multi-disciplinary statewide plans to enhance emergency communications. Our SCIP will outline and define the current and future vision for communications interoperability within the municipalities, counties, local and tribal regions in the State of Maine. In addition, the Maine SCIP will align our emergency response agencies with the goals, objectives, and initiatives for achieving that vision.

SCIPs are living documents that will be updated on an annual basis, or as frequently as needed. The SCIP provides strategic direction and alignment for those responsible for interoperable communications at the State, regional, and local levels.

Will the FirstNet network replace the land mobile radio (LMR) networks public safety uses today?

When the FirstNet network launches, it will provide mission-critical, high-speed data services to supplement the voice capabilities of today's Land Mobile Radio (LMR) networks. Initially, the FirstNet network will be used for sending data, video, images and text. The FirstNet network will also carry location information and eventually support streaming video. FirstNet plans to offer cellular voice communications such as Voice over Long Term Evolution (VoLTE) or other alternatives.

When will mission-critical voice be available for FirstNet users?

FirstNet can't predict the arrival of mission-critical voice in part because the standards are still under development. The standards work will determine the functionality and performance requirements for mission-critical Voice over Long Term Evolution (VoLTE). FirstNet is actively involved in the standards-setting process and the industry at large is working to accelerate the development of this new worldwide standard.

What makes mission-critical voice different from cellular-quality or commercial-grade voice?

Today's LMR networks support push-to-talk, direct mode, and emergency call functionality. Public safety users typically communicate one-to-many instead of one-to-one. If the network fails, they also must be able to communicate with other responders in close proximity, so direct mode is critical. There are also performance requirements for mission-critical voice that address call set-up speed, quality, and reliability. These attributes need to be defined through the standards-setting process.

Will the FirstNet network share sites with LMR networks?

The FirstNet network will leverage existing infrastructure where it makes engineering and economic sense. Our goal is to keep costs down and reduce the time it takes to build out the new Band Class 14 FirstNet network. Band Class 14 is the portion of spectrum allocated to public safety for operation of the FirstNet nationwide public safety wireless broadband network. Whether FirstNet shares sites with LMR networks will depend on the availability of space to house FirstNet equipment and whether the location proves to be the best option for meeting our network design, coverage, and cost requirements.

Will the FirstNet network connect to LMR networks?

In order to access one or more LMR networks, a dedicated handset must be within range of the specific towers within the frequency band on which it operates. Public safety personnel utilize a propriety subscriber unit and must sometimes carry multiple units to execute their daily mission. Headquarters personnel, ad hoc users or neighboring jurisdictions are routinely provided with units when needed for mutual aid. There are many solutions that will allow FirstNet users to improve efficiency by extending LMR access to smartphones, tablets and PCs. Through a simple Internet Protocol (IP) gateway, users will be able to transmit and receive voice traffic on any device that is authenticated to an LMR network via a Push to Talk (PTT) voice application.