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Commerce Head to Unveil FirstNet Partner

WASHINGTON — New Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross plans to announce on Thursday (March 30) the network provider winner of a 25-year, multibillion-dollar contract to team up with the department in a public-private partnership to create the FirstNet interoperable public safety broadband network.

FirstNet is the network recommended by the 9/11 Commission after communications issues with first responders, and which was funded out of FCC spectrum auctions.

"With this innovative public private partnership, a large swath of spectrum will be prioritized and dedicated to first responder communications," the Commerce Department said in a statement about the announcement. "Plus, when there is surplus capacity on the FirstNet network, the network provider can use it for commercial purposes to deliver innovative broadband services and applications for all wireless users."

Essentially, FirstNet will have priority use of the spectrum whenever it is needed for emergency communications.

The news of the announcement follows the FirstNet board's unanimous authorization for FirstNet CEO Mike Poth or someone he designates to finalize awarding of the contract to build and maintain the network, which drew the praise of the Competitive Carriers Association, whose members are ready to team up with the winner to help reach the rural areas they serve.

In August, the board approved $6.5 billion in support of the contract and in December unveiled a plan for the first three months after the award is granted, which should be kicking in Thursday.

FirstNet also worked with the Justice Department to resolve a complaint about the contract-awarding process.

“Upon award, FirstNet will immediately start work on delivering this network to public safety and fulfilling our promise to them," Poth said this week.