Emergency first responders and other public safety entities will be given a second option for priority broadband network services with Verizon Communications’ plan to launch a core public safety communications network which will operate separately from Verizon’s commercial network facilities while competing against the federally-funded FirstNet, which will be operated by AT&T.
Verizon, which announced the project on Tuesday, already controls two-thirds of the national market for communications services used by police, fire and other first responders. Observers say Verizon was motivated to build the network primarily out of a desire to retain its current public safety customers. Last March, AT&T was awarded the $6.5 billion, 25- year federal contract for developing and operating FirstNet, the national public safety broadband network that was conceived through the 9/11 Commission Report and is funded through the proceeds of FCC spectrum auctions. As of yesterday, AT&T reported that 15 U.S. states and territories had signed opt-in agreements to participate in FirstNet. Although some portions of FirstNet are already active, AT&T expects the bulk of the network will go into operation next year.
In documents filed with the FCC, Verizon confirmed its intention to “provide reliable and innovative public safety communications services to state and local governments irrespective of whether states choose to opt-out of the FirstNet network.” A separate news release issued by Verizon also states that the core public safety network to be launched by the company “does not require that states opt-out of FirstNet, does not require access to any federal funding provided to FirstNet, and does not require any financial commitment from states to support network deployment.” While emphasizing that the proposed network will be “fully funded by Verizon,” the news release also lays out the carrier’s plan to “invest in new mission critical 4G LTE voice communications to complement existing [public safety] services such as Push-to-Talk Plus.” Verizon also said it would offer multi-band devices that will “enable full interoperability with any Band 14 radio access networks deployed by FirstNet” while providing Voice-over-LTE wireless priority and preemption services to public safety customers at no additional charge.
Like AT&T, Verizon intends to have its public safety network up and running next year. Though declining comment on the anticipated cost of the project, Verizon senior vice president Michael Maiorana asserted, “we’re making the investments necessary to give public safety access to the best possible network coverage, reliability, and capability,” as he described the proposed network as “a comprehensive and cost-effective solution for public safety.” Countering, “what we’re offering to public safety through our private-public partnership will be fundamentally different from anything they’ve previously been offered in the marketplace,” an AT&T spokesman remarked that “FirstNet is bringing public safety a superior network and ecosystem with specialized features . . . so first responder subscribers can be confident that the network will be there where and when they need it.”