AT&T to finish 80% of FirstNet buildout in coming months, exec says
AT&T expects to complete 80% of the contracted buildout of the FirstNet nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN) “in the coming months,” an AT&T executive said yesterday.
AT&T Chief Operating Officer (COO) John Stankey made the statement during the company’s quarterly earning call with financial analysts while discussing company officials’ belief that AT&T will add more wireless users in 2020 than it did in 2019.
“After adding nearly 1 million phone net adds in 2019, both postpaid and prepaid, we expect 2020 will be an even better year for net adds,” Stankey said during the earnings call, which was webcast.
“FirstNet plays an important role here. We now serve more than 10,000 first-responder agencies and more than 1 million connections with FirstNet. We expect those numbers will grow nicely as our FirstNet deployment reaches 80%, and new devices and capabilities come to market in the coming months.”
For AT&T, the 80% buildout mark for FirstNet has a notable financial implications, as reaching this threshold is a key component to being paid more than $1 billion. Under the AT&T contract with the FirstNet Authority, the carrier giant is scheduled to receive incremental payments for reaching certain buildout milestones. Upon completion of the FirstNet system, AT&T could receive a maximum of $6.5 billion.
Under the agreement with the FirstNet Authority, AT&T has five years to complete the contracted deployment of the FirstNet system, beginning with a start date of March 2018, when the FirstNet Authority issued the first network-construction task order. If AT&T is able to reach the 80% buildout threshold by the end of March this year, it would be a full year ahead of the contracted deployment schedule.
The 1 million FirstNet connections and the 10,000 first-responder agencies using FirstNet are figures that AT&T announced in December, when the company also said it had completed 75% of the contracted buildout for FirstNet.
A federal General Accountability Office (GAO) report released publicly this week provided some additional details about adoption of the FirstNet system. As many sources within the public-safety community have suspected, the 43-page GAO report confirms that many agencies adopting FirstNet may have only a handful of connections, “which may indicate piloting of the network,” based on interviews conducted primarily in 2019.
“For example, one agency we interviewed had only about 2 dozen of its approximately 1,300 total devices on the network,” according to the GAO report, can be accessed here. “Similarly, officials from multiple other public-safety agencies explained they were in the piloting phase (i.e., testing a small number or types of devices to gauge network performance) and that they were using or would continue to use another carrier for broadband services to ensure effective redundancy and emergency planning.”
The GAO report provided some new details about contracted FirstNet adoption targets. As of July 2019, there were more than 700,000 FirstNet connection, which represented 165% of the contracted target of more than 400,000 connections, according to a graphic in the GAO report.
As of July 2019, FirstNet adoption by primary users—law enforcement, fire, EMS, 911 and emergency operations centers—was 196% of the target goal, with law-enforcement adoption being more than twice the forecasted target, according to the GAO report. The FirstNet adoption rate among “extended primary” users was 106% of the July 2019 target.
The GAO report also noted the broad nature of groups being allowed to use FirstNet in the “extended primary” category.
“According to our analysis of FirstNet documentation, there are extended-primary users from transit agencies; public-utility and tow-truck companies; school districts; a state child-protective-services agency; airports; and television/media news outlets,” the GAO report states.