Virginia became the first state to accept the FirstNet state plan that allows AT&T to proceed with the buildout of the 700 MHz nationwide public-safety broadband network within its borders after Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed the letter of intent yesterday.

McAuliffe will conduct a ceremonial letter signing at 1:30 Eastern time today at FirstNet’s headquarters in Reston, Va. A live webcast of the event will be available at www.firstnet.gov and www.att.com/FirstResponderNews, according to a press release from FirstNet.  

“I am proud that Virginia is the first state in the nation to opt in to this program that will help our first responders communicate during times of emergency,” McAuliffe said in a prepared statement. “While this is only the beginning of the process, I look forward to the continued coordinated efforts among Virginia, FirstNet, and AT&T to provide public safety officials with innovative new technologies that will help them keep Virginians safe.” 

FirstNet CEO Mike Poth said he believes McAuliffe’s decision will benefit public-safety personnel in Virginia.

“Public safety has spent years advocating for a nationwide network following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and today, Gov. McAuliffe is helping to answer that call by joining the FirstNet network,” Poth said yesterday in a prepared statement. “FirstNet will be able to put the technology citizens use every day—like smartphones and apps—into the hands of Virginia’s first responders, modernizing how they help save lives and protect residents while creating a single, interoperable system across the Commonwealth and across the country.”

Under the law that created FirstNet, the governors for the 56 states and territories in the U.S. have the choice of accepting the FirstNet deployment plan or pursuing the “opt-out” alternative, which would make the state responsible for deploying the LTE radio access network (RAN) within the state.

FirstNet released initial state plans on June 19 and made them actionable, so governors would have the opportunity to make an early “opt-in” decision, as McAuliffe did for Virginia. Final state plans are expected to be released in September, and governors will need to make their “opt-in/opt-out” decisions by a date in December. FirstNet has not yet specified the deadline dates for these milestones.

Numerous sources had indicated that Virginia was among the states contemplating an early “opt-in” decision. However, McAuliffe’s action on Monday was considered surprising by some, as state officials were unable to view the online state-plan portal until last week, when concerns about the term-of-use legal language associated with the portal were resolved.

With the “opt-in” decision, Virginia public-safety users immediately will get priority service on AT&T’s commercial LTE network, and preemptive access is expected to be available by the end of the year. Public-safety agencies will have “full local control to identify their responders and assign priority as needed, based on the circumstances,” according to the FirstNet press release.

“I am extremely pleased that Virginia is choosing to opt in to the [FirstNet] network,” Fairfax County Fire Chief Richard Bowers said in a prepared statement. “Access to the network will provide us with additional tools to help ensure we can do our job when the time comes.”