FirstNet Annual Report Highlights First 10 Years, Need for Congressional Action to Extend
Thursday, March 10, 2022 | Comments

The First Responder Network Authority’s (FirstNet Authority) fiscal year 2021 annual report highlights the organization’s first 10 years, as well as highlighted the importance of legislative and regulatory actions to ensure the future of the organization.

In the report, the FirstNet Authority said that the buildout of the national public-safety broadband network (NPSBN) is on schedule and meeting targets of the contract between the authority and industry partner AT&T in both rural and non-rural areas.

The network, which began operating in 2018, now has 2.8 million connections, and AT&T said the number of network connections grew by 86% in 2021 alone.

Under the contract, AT&T has five years to finish the deployment of the network, placing the deadline in March 2023. In an annual Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) filing AT&T filed last month, AT&T said it expects to receive the final reimbursements for completing the network buildout in 2022.

The report said that 2022 is a crucial year for the FirstNet Authority. The Middle Class Job Creation and Tax Relief Act of 2012, which created the FirstNet Authority, put a 15-year sunset on the program. If not acted upon by Congress, the sunset would terminate the FirstNet Authority in 2027.

“Congress provided the sunset clause, and a series of extensive oversight mechanisms, to help ensure and review the success of what seemed, 10 years ago, a formidable challenge,” the report said. “Today, the FirstNet Authority is a resounding success, providing vital communications services to local, state, tribal and federal public-safety officials throughout the nation. This outcome was not inevitable and is due to the tireless work of the first responders who urged Congress to create FirstNet and who have contributed to the program’s planning and implementation.”

In February, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on the sunset that recommended Congress reauthorized the FirstNet Authority before the 2027 sunset to ensure network continuity. At the same time, U.S. Reps. Val Demings and Lizzie Fletcher introduced a bill that would eliminate the sunset of the authority. That bill has been referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

“As Congress receives the GAO report, the FirstNet Authority is grateful for the opportunity to demonstrate that what was only an idea 10 years ago is today a fully operational program with millions of public-safety entities communicating vital information to each other every day over the nationwide public safety broadband network,” the FirstNet Authority’s annual report said. “Reauthorizing the FirstNet Authority ensures that life-saving resources will not be taken away from first responders.”

The legislation that created the FirstNet Authority provided the authority with the band 14 block of 700 MHz spectrum for its industry partner to use to build out the network. The FCC license for that spectrum expires in 2022 and must be renewed.

The FirstNet Authority said in its report that it began working on the license renewal process in 2021.

“Renewal of this license is fundamental and essential to the continued operation of the NPSBN,” the FirstNet Authority annual report said. “The FirstNet Authority’s enabling legislation does not provide for an automatic renewal; as a result, the FirstNet Authority must re-apply for the license to the band 14 spectrum through the FCC to continue providing this dedicated spectrum to public safety.”

Find the full annual report here.

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