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County gears up for 2019 wireless system

JOHNSTOWN — The Fulton County Board of Supervisors on Thursday discussed how the county is gearing up for a new federal public safety wireless broadband system.

“We are ready to get started with the First Net system,” county Administrative Officer Jon Stead said at the County Office Building.

Stead said a representative of his office, Beth Lathers, and county Emergency Management Office Director Steve Santa Maria met with First Net representatives in a preliminary meeting.

Signed into federal law on Feb. 22, 2012, the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act created the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet). The law gives FirstNet the mission to build, operate and maintain the first high-speed, nationwide wireless broadband network dedicated to public safety’s emergency and daily data communications.

In New York state, the State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services is representing public safety stakeholder interests with FirstNet and its selected partner, AT&T.

In a special committee report, Caroga Supervisor James Selmser the First Net system will involve 22 towers.

One of the last remaining recommendations from the 9-11 Commission Report was to establish a nationwide interoperable broadband network for public safety’s use. In 2012, Congress created and funded FirstNet for the purposes of implementing and operating such a network for 25 years.

In addition to $7 billion in funding, Congress also allocated 20 MHz of prime “Band 14” 700 MHz spectrum for the program’s use, requiring that first responders have priority access but permitting Band 14 to be monetized otherwise in order to support the National Public Safety Broadband Network.

The past five years, municipalities have been data gathering from the first responder community and industry and seeking to identify a viable business model. FirstNet issued an RFP in 2016, and a contract was signed with AT&T, the winning bidder in March 2017. Shortly thereafter, AT&T publicly disclosed its business model for the national network that leveraged its existing commercial infrastructure.

AT&T created individual state plans for the radio access network, or RAN portion, including plans to add new sites. Each state was to choose whether to opt-in and accept the AT&T RAN, or to opt-out and construct and operate their own RAN and take on the financial and operational obligations of doing so. New York state chose to opt-in to the AT&T proposed RAN.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at manich@leaderherald.com.

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