First responders to receive FirstNet Solution benefits

FirstNet tower 
Located a few miles south of Hurley on Highway 19 at the intersection of 284th is one of the many FirstNet towers located in Turner County. Photo/Dawn Rye 

Dawn Rye | Writer

During last week’s Turner County commissioners meeting, a motion was made that FirstNet Solutions’ process begin to upgrade first responder cell service. 

FirstNet Solutions Consultant Doug Penniston explained he spoke with Turner County Sheriff Steven Luke. He stated FirstNet Solution is a federal government project building a nationwide broadband network exclusive to first responders. Penniston said the federal government saw that during the 9-11 incident, towers were down for first responders. He noted after several interviews were conducted with first responders, the government created the FirstNet Authority group. 

He noted they are three years into a five-year build at this time and AT&T will maintain and grow the FirstNet network for the next 20 years.

Penniston explained the committee was challenged to take a frequency channel on an LTD spectrum and set it aside for first responders. He stated FirstNet covers all 50 states and US territories, with AT&T being awarded the contract. Penniston said they had to go through a process in all states to give them the opportunity to opt-out of the FirstNet program and build their network or opt-in to partner with AT&T. He noted there are two million subscribers nationwide on FirstNet at this time. 

He explained AT&T took broadband 14 and built FirstNet so they could offer their commercial spectrum. Penniston said FirstNet has a separate computer system that controls FirstNet towers’ traffic with a higher level of security. He noted that band 14 is in place and two towers in Turner County currently have FirstNet devices, making it the first responder superhighway. Penniston stated, for example, during the fair if an incident happens, the network is challenged. He explained everybody calls 911, taking pictures and shooting video, then the network crashes. Penniston said with FirstNet, first responders have full access to the 14-broadband network. He noted Sheriff Steven Luke wants the county first responders and volunteers to be placed on the FirstNet network to gain access to the network. 

Commissioner Mark Kaufmann asked if it would save the county money?

Penniston said it would save the county some money and one of the stipulations of the contract is they had to be lower than commercial rates. He stated they are competitive when it comes to offering the newest cellphone devices. He explained per the state contract, the unlimited data plan is about $3.00 less per month. Penniston stated they don’t want the county to feel a burden when they join FirstNet, so they offer free smartphones with a FirstNet sim card and network. 

Commissioner Tony Ciampa questioned if the volunteer are the only one that receives the phone, what about the family? 

Penniston said if one family member is a volunteer firefighter, they are the only one granted access to the FirstNet network. He noted part of the benefit is that AT&T does offer a 25 percent off deal.

Ciampa asked how is the system going to be protected with everyone claiming to be first responders?

Penniston stated an agency or individual provides credentials to the federal government annually. He noted that South Dakota issues a first responder ID that would have to be submitted, proving that the individual is still active as a first responder.

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