FirstNet board members today voted unanimously to authorize FirstNet CEO Mike Poth to finalize the 25-year contract this week—an award to AT&T, although the carrier was not mentioned during the special board meeting—to build and maintain the nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN).

“This is a very, very special day,” FirstNet Chairwoman Sue Swenson said during the board meeting. “It marks the completion of a significant milestone on our strategic roadmap.

“Going back to when the project first started, everybody told me that we would never reach this day. They said, ‘We have no idea how you’re going to get from Point A to this particular point. We still obviously have quite a bit of work to do, but this is a significant day in terms of moving us toward that.”

FirstNet Vice Chairman Jeff Johnson also noted the significance of the board vote. Johnson said that public safety had a communications advantage over the general public when he entered the sector in 1978, because first responders were able to communicate from vehicles traveling on the road. But that has changed significantly during the past 20 years, and teenagers have more functionality than public safety today—a trend that should change with the deployment of FirstNet, he said.

“FirstNet will reset that standard and bring to public safety a world-class network—of public safety, by public safety, for public safety—and bring us applications, technology and performance, the likes of which public safety has never seen,” Johnson said.

FirstNet board member Kevin McGinnis echoed this sentiment, noting that the impact that reliable broadband connectivity will have on the emergency medical services (EMS) sector.

“FirstNet is going to change the way that EMS is practiced in the field forever,” McGinnis said. “It’s going to save lives, and it’s going to help the healthcare system work better. It truly is going to be a game changer for us.”

Today’s FirstNet board vote follows the March 17 court rulings from U.S. Court of Federal Claims Judge Elaine Kaplan that dismissed a procurement protest by Rivada Mercury “in total,” according to FirstNet Chief Counsel Jason Karp. In the lawsuit, Rivada Mercury claimed that its bid for the right to build and maintain the NPSBN should be considered in the “competitive range” stage of the procurement.

AT&T led the only bidding team that reached the “competitive range” and is expected to be awarded the 25-year contract to build and maintain the public-safety network in exchange for access to 20 MHz of 700 MHz spectrum and $6.5 billion. AT&T was not mentioned during the board meeting because the contract has not been finalized, according to a source familiar with the situation.

Poth said that the winning proposal meets all 16 objectives identified in the FirstNet request for proposals (RFP) and that the award will be finalized this week. The actual award date is significant, because that will mark the beginning of several key timetables associated with the FirstNet offering.

For instance, deployment plans are scheduled to be delivered to all 56 states and territories within six months of the award. After receiving the state plan, each governor will have 90 days to decide whether to accept the FirstNet plan or pursue the “opt-out” alternative, which would require the state to build the radio access network (RAN) within its borders in manner that will interoperate with the nationwide FirstNet system.