FirstNet and AT&T officials have long stated that public-safety agencies within “opt-in” states immediately can take advantage of priority access across the AT&T network, but even existing AT&T customers first need to subscribe to a FirstNet plan to realize the priority functionality, according to AT&T.

“Current AT&T state, local and tribal first responders of AT&T service in opt-in states would need to move to a FirstNet plan to purchase FirstNet service as primary users and take advantage of the specialized features, such as quality of service and priority access,” according to an AT&T statement provided in response to questions from IWCE’s Urgent Communications.

When asked whether public-safety customers that currently subscribe to AT&T would be allowed to break existing contracts with the carrier to migrate to a FirstNet plan without financial penalty, AT&T provided a statement that “we are working to make the transition as easy as possible for those who want to sign up for FirstNet service.”

Such policies are becoming increasingly relevant to public-safety agencies throughout the U.S., as five states—Virginia, Wyoming, Arkansas, Kentucky and Iowa—have had their governors “opt-in” to FirstNet, which means they have decided to accept FirstNet’s deployment plan for the nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN) within their states’ borders. With that decision, AT&T—FirstNet’s nationwide contractor—will build, maintain and upgrade the FirstNet public-safety network within the state for the next 25 years.

AT&T is expected to begin building the public-safety broadband system on FirstNet’s 700 MHz Band 14 spectrum later this year, but the carrier has promised that FirstNet public-safety subscribers would have priority access across all of AT&T’s existing commercial networks—operating in several different spectrum bands—immediately in “opt-in” states. Preemptive access on the AT&T commercial network is scheduled to be implanted by the end of the year.

While FirstNet services will be available to “primary” FirstNet public-safety users—for instance, fire, EMS and law-enforcement personnel—immediately, FirstNet services packages for “extended primary” public-safety users are still months away, according to AT&T.

“There is a slightly different timeline for the extended primary offer,” according to an AT&T statement to IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “We expect to bring the extended primary offer to market in the December/January timeframe.”

In addition to these statements, officials for FirstNet and AT&T recently provided additional details on a variety of implementation topics.

Chad Tucker, an AT&T principal consultant for government solutions, said during a panel discussion at the Tennessee Advanced Communications Network (TACN) Statewide Public Safety Broadband Conference that public-safety users will be able to purchase FirstNet devices through AT&T retail outlets.

 “You can buy those devices from the sales reps you deal with now, you can buy those devices from any one of the bazillion retail stores we have around the country, or you can buy it online,” Tucker said. Such purchases can be made “whether your agency is purchasing it for you as part of being a FirstNet subscriber or whether you are bringing your own device to the network.

“Say you’re a volunteer, and your agency doesn’t pay for your cell phone or your air card, and you still want to be a FirstNet subscriber. You still have the ability to do that, through the BYOD (bring-your-own-device) program. Which means, through a credentialing process, you’ll go into a store or you’ll go online, and you’ll purchase your own device. You’ll be on the FirstNet network, no different than the fire chief for the city of Los Angeles—same exact network, same exact features. So, essentially the entire AT&T retail and sales infrastructure is FirstNet today.”