ORLANDO—FirstNet has issued the official task order to AT&T, giving the contractor the green light to build the nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN), FirstNet CEO Mike Poth announced yesterday during his morning keynote address at IWCE 2018.

FirstNet technically issued the task order on late Tuesday, according to Poth. While the task order is a notable milestone, it only marks the official beginning of a lengthy buildout, he said.

“While we want to celebrate, we have to realize that this is Year 1 of a 25-year process, and we’re going to continue to ensure that AT&T stands and delivers,” Poth said. “We’re not concerned at all, because they have met every challenge that we’ve thrown at them.”

With the task order issued, AT&T now officially is assured that it will be receive payment upon meeting certain deployment benchmarks within the contract—a total of $6.5 billion. Despite not having the task order, AT&T has been deploying the network in earnest, according to Chris Sambar, AT&T’s senior vice president for FirstNet.

“We’re not waiting—no way,” Sambar said during a recent interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “We know what needs to be done, and we know that public safety needs this now. They’ve been waiting a long time, so let’s get it done quickly for them … The bottom line is that we’re getting the work done now, and we’re going to turn it up as soon as we can.

“With Band 14, we’ve already started the work, putting it up on towers across the U.S. As you recall, we have five years to put it up, … but we’re going to move a lot faster than that, because we want to get it up sooner rather than later.”

After being awarded the FirstNet nationwide contract last March, AT&T has given FirstNet public-safety subscribers prioritized and preemptive access to AT&T’s commercial LTE network. AT&T is scheduled to have its dedicated FirstNet LTE core begin operation by the end of the month, which will enable a host of new services and capabilities that are designed to meet the needs of first responders.

So far, more than 350 public-safety agencies across more than 40 states and territories are using FirstNet services, according to a press release issued yesterday by AT&T.

“The agencies using FirstNet make up nearly 30,000 connections on the network,” according to the press release.

“These connections range from smartphones to in-vehicle modems and more.”