California joins federal FirstNet public safety radio system, run by AT&T

29 December 2017 by Steve Blum
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Governor Brown announced that the state is opting in to the nationwide FirstNet public safety radio system that’ll be run by AT&T, under a contract from the federal government. Yesterday was the deadline, and California was the last state to decide. All 50 states have now opted in.

In his opt-in letter, Brown said he still has reservations about the 25 year project…

This letter serves as notice…that California has decided to participate in the deployment of the nationwide, interoperable broadband network as proposed in the FirstNet State Plan. While California remains concerned that the proposed plan does not address all our State’s needs, California is opting into the plan with the expectation that our concerns will be addressed throughout our partnership

A side letter from the head of California’s office of emergency services, Mark Ghilarducci, outlined those concerns. They include interoperability, particularly while FirstNet is under development and some agencies have it while others don’t, the extra charges AT&T intends to impose for secure communications and the robustness of AT&T’s wireless sites.

Ghilarducci said that the federal government wasn’t offering a genuine choice, “because FirstNet’s regulatory and procedural process makes the opt-out option in California untenable”.

New Hampshire had similar concerns, and originally decided to build its own first responder radio system, but reversed course and announced it is going with FirstNet as the clocked ticked down yesterday. In the end, New Hampshire governor Chris Sununu didn’t believe there was a real choice either. “The additional risk associated with being the only state to opt-out creates too high a barrier for New Hampshire to continue down the opt-out path alone”, he said.

AT&T’s FirstNet system will use 20 MHz of spectrum in the 700 MHz band, and be based on 4G LTE technology.