FirstNet Authority Alters Operations, Network Sees User Growth During Pandemic
Friday, December 11, 2020 | Comments

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) to alter its operations, but officials said the nationwide public-safety broadband network is continuing its forward momentum.

“It would be an understatement to say 2020 has been a year like no other,” said FirstNet Authority Board Chair Robert “Tip” Osterthaler at the board’s Dec. 9 meeting. “All of these events together have tested FirstNet in a way we couldn’t have predicted, and we are pleased to see how well the network has performed.”

Osterthaler said that despite the pandemic, AT&T’s deployment of the FirstNet network is still on schedule and on budget. FirstNet Authority Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Jeff Bratcher noted that the network has continued to see strong subscriber growth as agencies have turned to LTE to help combat the pandemic.

At the end of September, there were more than 1.7 million FirstNet connections, coming from more than 14,000 organizations, Bratcher said. Additionally, the deployment of band 14 spectrum continues, he said, with band 14 access available in more than 700 markets now.

Perhaps the biggest way COVID-19 impacted FirstNet Authority operations this year was by forcing its outreach team to change the way it gathers feedback and input from public safety. Because of COVID-19, authority staff was unable to travel and conduct in-person sessions so the team moved its operations online through webinars and virtual meetings.

The virtual meetings went very well, and the outreach team plans to continue hosting virtual meetings, in addition to in-person meetings, when it is once again safe to travel, said David Buchanan, executive director for public safety advocacy for FirstNet.

“We are delighted with the outcomes of those meetings and the response we received from public safety,” he said. “We think it is an efficient way to bring our value and bring our content and capture feedback. While we look forward to resuming in-person travel as soon as it is appropriate and practical, we are also pleased that virtual meetings are her to stay, webinars are here to say. We will be offering those as product offering for engagement in fiscal year 2021.”

Due to changes in how the outreach team operated this year, the authority’s budget varied slightly this year from what was approved, but it was only a 3% variance, said FirstNet Authority Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Kim Farington.

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