FirstNet signs Illinois as Dec. 28 deadline looms

States that don’t officially decide to use FirstNet by Dec. 28 will automatically be opted in to the system.

Illinois officially opted in to FirstNet this morning, marking the 39th state or territory to commit to using the network being built by AT&T for first responders.

But some significant states remain on the fence with 10 days left to decide whether to go with FirstNet.

The battle to provide wireless services to emergency workers has become increasingly intense ahead of the Dec. 28 deadline for states and territories to decide whether they’ll use FirstNet; those that don’t make an official declaration will automatically be opted in. AT&T and FirstNet launched “ruthless preemption,” giving first responders top priority to its network even during times of extreme congestion.

Verizon, which is also competing to provide service to emergency workers—and which already claims a sizable portion of that market—has vowed to enable preemption by the end of the year. Rivada Networks is also competing in the space and recently scored its first win when New Hampshire chose to use its offering, marking FirstNet’s first significant loss.

"Opting in to the FirstNet emergency responder network is an important advance for public safety in Illinois," Governor Bruce Rauner said in a press release today announcing his decision. "FirstNet's technology will help us keep important lines of communication open when we most need them."

Securing the FirstNet contract was viewed as a major win for AT&T, which will get access to 20 MHz of spectrum in the 700 MHz frequency band and $6.5 billion for designing and operating the nationwide network for federal, state and local authorities, with the right to sell excess capacity on the system. AT&T will spend roughly $40 billion over the life of the 25-year contract to deploy and maintain the network, the Department of Commerce said, integrating its network assets with FirstNet.

Some states have balked at FirstNet’s terms of service in recent weeks, though, and some major states—including California, which is the most populous in the nation—remain on the fence. (Verizon recently decided not to participate in California’s request for proposals for alternatives to AT&T’s offering.) And cities and towns in states that opt in won’t automatically be required to fall in line; they can instead choose to go with another service. So the fight to meet the needs of those users is expected to continue long past the Dec. 28 deadline.