It's official: AT&T wins $6.5 billion FirstNet award

The 25-year agreement to build out a national public safety wireless broadband network has been awarded to AT&T.

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Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced on March 30 that AT&T won the $6.5 billion contract to build a nationwide public safety broadband wireless network.

The FirstNet contract is a 25-year agreement to build a national wireless broadband network. While the government has appropriated $6.5 billion to pay for construction over five years, the projected costs are far higher than that. Over the first five years, FirstNet will pay AT&T $6.5 billion to build out the network.

However, the cost of building the network is projected to be far higher than that. In a press release, AT&T projected it would invest about $40 billion into the network over the life of the contract.

"FirstNet is a critical infrastructure project that will give our first responders the communications tools they need to keep America safe and secure. This public-private partnership will also spur innovation and create over 10,000 new jobs in this cutting-edge sector," Ross said.

Under the partnership, AT&T will develop the nationwide network using spectrum freed up and dedicated for the purpose of public safety. But AT&T will also be able to share unused capacity on that network with its customers.

"This is an unprecedented public-private investment in infrastructure that makes America a leader and public safety a national priority," said Randall Stephenson, AT&T chairman and CEO.

AT&T's team on the project includes Motorola Solutions, General Dynamics, Sapient Consulting and Inmarsat Government.

The award to AT&T was no surprise. The telecom giant was the last company standing when the First Responder Network Authority told the other two bidders they were no longer being considered.

Rivada Mercury filed a protest with the Court of Federal Claims in November. The court ruled against the firm on March 17, setting the stage for an award.

The network was first envisioned after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when first responders from different departments and different jurisdictions found themselves unable to communicate on radio. AT&T estimated that there are 10,000 networks being used for voice communications.

AT&T also will be tasked with bringing individual states onto the network. As they join, the company will invest in the infrastructure in those states.

However states will have the opportunity to opt out of the FirstNet authority, and contract to build their own interoperable radio access networks. Rivada Mercury, the losing protester, plans to continue to land contracts for first-responder networks. At least five states have issued requests for proposals that give Rivada or another provider an opportunity to build out a network in their states.

A version of this article was first published on FCW's sister site, Washington Technology. 

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