FirstNet inks all 50 states as deadline passes

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The deadline for states to opt out of the offering from AT&T and FirstNet passed Thursday

After months of heated competition to provide wireless services to the nation’s first responders, FirstNet and AT&T ended up signing all 50 states.

But the battle is likely to rage on for years as providers target emergency agencies and individuals at the local level.

Five states including California and New York announced decisions to go with FirstNet on Thursday, which was the deadline for states to declare whether they’d use AT&T’s offering or go in a different direction. One of those last-minute signees was New Hampshire, which a few weeks ago had said it would instead use Rivada Networks to provide wireless services for its emergency workers.

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Verizon is also aggressively working to build on its momentum in the market to provide services to emergency workers.

States that hadn’t officially opted out by the deadline were essentially signed on to use FirstNet. Two U.S. territories and Washington, D.C., have also agreed to be FirstNet customers.

Three other U.S. territories—American Samoa, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands—have until March 12 to decide.

“Following our decision to opt-out and go with the Rivada plan that provides better coverage, more system control and an opportunity to share in the revenue streams of the business, we proceeded to have extensive discussions with other governors across the country to help them understand the benefits of such a system,” New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu said in a prepared statement. “Many of these states had previously expressed serious interest in pursuing an independent opt-out path. While we were successful in working with FirstNet to remove the unreasonable fees and penalties, the decision deadline of Dec. 28th approached too quickly for these other states to feel confident in an opt-out decision … While Rivada’s plan remains the better option for New Hampshire, I have determined that the additional risk associated with being the only state to opt-out creates too high a barrier for New Hampshire to continue down the opt-out path alone.”

Sununu said AT&T had agreed to build 48 new tower sites across the state, and FirstNet vowed that the build-out will result in a network covering 99% of New Hampshire’s population and 96% of its geography.

Securing the FirstNet contract was viewed as a major win for AT&T, which will get access to 20 MHz of 700 MHz low-band spectrum 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.

FirstNet has vowed to build out its core network by March and aims to complete its entire network within the next three years. And that effort is bound to lift the tower segment, according to Jennifer Fritzsche of Wells Fargo Securities.

“Talk is over, now it is go time for AT&T,” Fritzsche wrote in a note to investors. “(I)n order for AT&T to be able to receive the government payment associated with FirstNet, it must hit specific milestones with the infrastructure build. As we have written in the past, we see this as a significant boon for the tower industry—beginning in 2018 and extending many years after. Our checks show that with this build AT&T will touch ~45K sites over a five-year period—with as many as 15K in year one.”

Cities and towns in states that have opted 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.