Puerto Rico becomes second U.S. territory to ‘opt-in’ to FirstNet
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló today announced his decision to accept the nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN) deployment plan offered by FirstNet and AT&T on behalf of his territory, making Puerto Rico the second U.S. territory—along with 17 states—to “opt-in” to the FirstNet system.
“With this new tool, we reinforce the exchange of information between the security agencies and the response during an emergency,” Gov. Rosselló said in a prepared statement. “We are convinced that improving the communication between the components of public safety will be for the betterment of the people of Puerto Rico.”
With today’s decision from Puerto Rico, all states and territories located outside of the continental U.S. that have received an actionable state plan have chosen to “opt-in” to FirstNet—governors in the states of Hawaii and Alaska made their announcements during the past week, while the U.S. Virgin Islands territory announced its “opt-in” decision. The South Pacific territories—Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands—have not received actionable state plans, so their governors have not had an opportunity to make an “opt-in” decision.
“Governor Rosselló’s decision to join FirstNet demonstrates Puerto Rico’s strong commitment to public safety across the islands,” FirstNet CEO Mike Poth said in a prepared statement. “FirstNet looks forward to delivering a network that connects Puerto Rico’s emergency responders, bringing them the coverage, capacity and innovation they need to serve their communities especially when preparing for severe weather events.”
AT&T will build the FirstNet RAN in “opt-in” states or territories at no cost to each jurisdiction, but local public-safety entities will be responsible for paying subscription costs and end-user device expenses. However, the law that established FirstNet stipulates that individual public-safety agencies and potential first-responder users are not required to subscribe to the FirstNet service.
Not having any upfront financial obligations associated with FirstNet could be especially attractive to Puerto Rico, which in May became the first U.S. state or territory to file for a form of bankruptcy that was enabled by a law passed last year by Congress. A federal board overseeing Puerto Rico’s financial affairs since last year claimed in a legal filing that the island is “unable to provide its citizens effective services,” noting that the territory has $79 billion in bond debt and $49 billion in unfunded pension obligations.
Under the law that established FirstNet, governors in all 56 states and territories have the choice of making an “opt-in” decision—accepting the FirstNet deployment plan and allowing AT&T to build the LTE radio access network (RAN) within the state’s borders at no cost to the state—or pursuing the “opt-out” alternative, which would require the state to be responsible for building and maintaining the RAN for the next 25 years.
FirstNet released its initial state plans on June 19 and made them actionable, so governors would have the opportunity to “opt-in” to FirstNet prior to the final state plans being released in September. Previously, 17 other states—Virginia, Wyoming, Arkansas, Kentucky, Iowa, New Jersey, West Virginia, New Mexico, Michigan, Maine, Montana, Arizona, Kansas, Nevada, Hawaii, Alaska and Tennessee—have announced their “opt-in” decisions, as did the U.S. Virgin Islands territory.
AT&T officials have stated that deployment of LTE on FirstNet’s 700 MHz Band 14 spectrum could begin as early as this year in certain parts of the country. Public-safety agencies in “opt-in” states are eligible to sign FirstNet contracts that give first responders priority access across AT&T’s commercial networks immediately and preemptive access by the end of the year.
“The decision by Gov. Rosselló to opt-in to FirstNet allows us to begin offering and delivering innovative tools and state-of-the-art technologies to Puerto Rico’s fire, police and EMS services,” Ray Flores, AT&T Puerto Rico’s regional vice president, said in a prepared statement. “Delivering this one-of-a-kind solution to the people of Puerto Rico is a decision we take seriously. We’re honored to bring the FirstNet network to Puerto Rico, connecting its public-safety community to the life-saving technologies they deserve.”