NASHVILLE—AT&T has multiple financial and long-term-business reasons to provide public-safety agencies with a solution they are willing to adopt as part of the carrier’s deal to serve as FirstNet’s nationwide partner for the next 25 years, a company official said yesterday.

“We are committed [to public safety],” 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. “We’ve put our money where our mouth is. We’ve contractually obligated ourselves to FirstNet, as their partner, to get it right. They have many, many ways to slap our hands, if we get it wrong—and we are very aware of that, as a company. And our legacy and our reputation depends on it.”

Under the FirstNet agreement, AT&T gets access to 20 MHz of nationwide 700 MHz Band 14 spectrum that is licensed to FirstNet in states that accept the FirstNet state plan within its borders. While the primary purpose is to provide public-safety users with a nationwide broadband network, network capacity not used by public safety can be used by AT&T to sell commercial services.

Some critics of the arrangement have suggested that it would be in AT&T’s best business interests to offer a service that public-safety agencies would not adopt, because it would mean more network capacity would be available to sell for commercial services, which might be more lucrative.

But Tucker said “that’s definitely not the case” for AT&T, noting that the FirstNet agreement contractually obligates the company to meet certain public-safety-adoption goals. If these thresholds are not met, FirstNet has the right to assess financial penalties against AT&T or cancel the carrier’s access rights to the valuable spectrum.

 “First of all, FirstNet is going to have FirstNet, with or without AT&T,” Tucker said. “If we don’t perform, someone else will do the job. Also, if we don’t do the job, there are literally billions of dollars in fines back to us, if we don’t perform in the way that we are contractually obligated to do.”

In addition, AT&T’s performance in serving public safety through the FirstNet initiative is going to impact the perception of the company among key officials at the local and states levels that will be making other purchasing decisions that can significantly impact AT&T’s business, Tucker said.

“The third point is that this is a legacy project for AT&T,” Tucker said. “We have to think about the fact that firefighters, policemen, public-safety officials and public-safety responders from New York all the way to San Diego are going to be on FirstNet. The last thing we want to do as a company is get that wrong. I mean, what would that do to you business, to make that many people mad?”

When asked how important Internet of Things (IoT) and smart-cities initiatives—efforts that likely will be directed by many of the same local and state officials overseeing AT&T’s FirstNet performance—Tucker provided a direct answer.

“It is the future,” Tucker said.