View from the Top

FirstNet is delivering more than we imagined

Table of Contents:

When Congress established FirstNet in 2012, many officials were worried that it charged with executing a big task with too few resources for a government agency to deliver. However, it now appears that FirstNet is delivering more than most imagined was possible.

FirstNet has several tools for ensuring the successful deployment of a reliable, nationwide  network.  First, it holds the license to 20 MHz of spectrum in the 700 MHz band, providing FirstNet subscribers primary access to this spectrum.  Second, it has the authority and means to validate that AT&T delivers on its RFP obligations, including its commitment to provide 99.99% availability to FirstNet subscribers and offer access to its commercial LTE network. And finally, it has access to a breadth of well-researched and informed guidance and best practices to validate network security, reliability, and interoperability

Priority and Preemption: Based on what FirstNet and AT&T have said about the FirstNet contract, FirstNet not only will meet Congress’s vision that FirstNet’s users would have priority access to Band Class 14 spectrum, but in certain ways, it exceeds it. AT&T has agreed to deploy, maintain, and operate the FirstNet network in exchange for the ability to use the Band Class 14 spectrum on a secondary basis for its commercial operations. This is the outcome Congress contemplated in the Spectrum Act and FirstNet sought in its RFP.  Beyond that, AT&T will provide priority access and preemption to FirstNet subscribers over its commercial LTE network, as well as the Band Class 14 infrastructure.

Some have expressed concern that providing priority and preemption on the AT&T LTE network to FirstNet subscribers users could run afoul of the FCC’s Open Internet rules. In my view, such concerns are misguided.

Even though the future of the current Open Internet rules is uncertain, the existing rules only apply to a “mass market” broadband Internet access offering, which FirstNet service is not. Furthermore, even if the existing Open Internet rules applied to the FirstNet service, it would fit within the “safety and security” and “reasonable network management” exceptions to those rules (See 2015 Open Internet Order, ¶¶ 214-24, 300-03).

The purpose of the safety-and-security exception is to ensure that the Open Internet rules do not restrict a broadband Internet access service provider’s ability to address law-enforcement needs, and the FCC specifically acknowledged that first responders need guaranteed or prioritized access to the Internet during emergencies. Under the reasonable-network-management exception to the Open Internet rules, practices that are appropriately tailored to serve a legitimate network-management purpose—which would be the case for priority and preemption for public-safety users—may be exempted.

Spectrum Access: Between Band Class 14 and AT&T’s commercial LTE network, FirstNet users will enjoy primary access to a nationwide network capable of covering more than 99% of the U.S. geography with access to AT&T’s entire deployed network. They will particularly benefit from such robust capacity in emergency situations, where teams of FirstNet subscribers require simultaneous access to the network. 

Some have speculated that AT&T is only planning to utilize Band Class 14 where necessary to meet minimum public-safety accessibility requirements and, thus, does not intend to deploy Band Class 14 in most areas. These rumors simply do not make sense.

Congress intended for FirstNet to attract bidders to deploy, operate, and maintain the FirstNet network by leveraging the inherent value of Band Class 14 spectrum. Why would AT&T commit to investing $40 billion in the FirstNet enterprise, if the company did not intend to deploy the network? The return on AT&T’s investment is access to excess capacity in the 700 MHz band.

FirstNet—and FirstNet alone—is licensed to use 20 MHz block of spectrum in the 700 MHz band allocated for the public-safety broadband network. The only way AT&T can monetize the spectrum is to deploy it.

Moreover, the FirstNet RFP also requires AT&T to meet various network buildout requirements, including Band Class 14 coverage and capacity milestones (See FirstNet RFP § J-8). Arguments that AT&T will put minimal effort into deploying Band Class 14 are simply nonsensical.

Highly Secure and Reliable.  FirstNet must validate that AT&T delivers on its commitment to provide a highly secure and reliable public-safety network. AT&T has committed to providing a highly secure network, encrypted at its core (See Testimony of Chris Sambar, AT&T, at 4).

Discuss this Blog Entry 4

A-nony-mouse (not verified)
on Sep 15, 2017

I love Fairy Tales. Two weeks ago there was a First Net presentation in Prince William County, Virginia, specifically Nokesville, Virginia, only 31 miles from Washington DC, and the participants that attended bringing their AT&T cell phones, had no cell coverage. To me that speaks volumes. On another note, would anyone care to guess the number of Cell Sites on Wheels COW's (won't include Cell Sites on Wings as no one uses those yet) it would take to provide First Net service in the disaster areas of Houston and Florida? A hundred? A thousand? Several thousand? And would AT&T park all of those Cell sites and maintain to await the next disaster?

on Sep 17, 2017

Yes - View from the top. Why is it the folks at the top always think they're doing great things? FirstNet/ATT has done what exactly? Other than pat themselves on the back, they have managed to shun what they set out to do. Rural...nada...emergency service to the recent hurricanes...hmm not so much. FirstNet and ATT have managed to close out anyone outside their favorite vendor list. This is only the beginning of the boondoggle.

on Sep 19, 2017

Great article Anna. Regarding your statement "Congress provided $7 billion to cover network costs, state planning grants, opt-out state grants, and FirstNet’s administrative expenses", I would add that this money was not taxpayer funded, and that the entire $7B came from the auction of PCS and AWS-3 spectrum to wireless companies.

on Oct 11, 2017

I have not seen or heard anywhere what the subscribers costs will be. Will it be a recurring cost or charged annually as Gov't budgets in last few years have shrunk and costs( Labor and equipment)have skyrocketed. FirstNet right now promises the world but can it really live up to the hype...Only time will tell...

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