Colorado opts in to FirstNet, AT&T’s federal system, instead of building its own first responder network | AspenTimes.com

Colorado opts in to FirstNet, AT&T’s federal system, instead of building its own first responder network

Randy Wyrick
Vail Daily

New Hampshire became the first state to reject a federal first responder comunications system, FirstNet, to be built by AT&T. New Hampshire encouraged Colorado and other states to also reject FirstNet, and monetize the broadband spectrum for themselves. Colorado, however, decided to opt into the communications system on Monday, Dec. 18.

DENVER — Colorado will join a nationwide first responder network, the governor announced Monday afternoon, Dec. 18.

The First Responder Network Authority, or FirstNet, is supposed to give top priority to first responders during an emergency, as part of a nationwide system operated by AT&T.

First responders will use about 1 percent of that spectrum. The rest will be available for AT&T to sell.

“Ultimately, we are going to come down to a win-win,” Gov. John Hickenlooper said.

 The signing ceremony was broadcast on Hickenlooper’s Facebook page, which did not allow for questions or provide any information about what FirstNet will cost first responder agencies.

Wells Fargo Senior Analyst Jennifer Fritzsche said that “barring a national emergency, we estimate the spectrum will be less than 1 percent consumed by public safety uses.”

Recommended Stories For You

That leaves the bulk of the 20 mhz spectrum available for AT&T to sell. AT&T’s contract runs 25 years.

‘BAD PROCESS’

Hickenlooper’s Facebook announcement closes a chapter on what some say is a “bad process” that was not transparent.

Congress dropped FirstNet into an unrelated bill in 2012. The bill created another federal government agency, the FirstNet authority, which awarded AT&T the job of building the nationwide system.

Colorado and other states had two basic choices: Join AT&T and the federal FirstNet system, or build their own system that would be compatible with FirstNet. If states wanted to go their own way, as New Hampshire did last week, then the feds left states only 90 days to make their decision and find a company to build their system.

“This is a bad process, and the states are being pushed into this before they are ready,” said Kathy Chandler-Henry, an Eagle County commissioner who serves on Colorado’s committee that advised Hickenlooper.

“The process has not been open and transparent. The timeline for states to opt out has been shortened; the time allotted is insufficient,” Chandler-Henry said. “The rules seem to be changing, but no one seems to know what those rules are going to be.”

AT&T has also not yet revealed how much first responders will have to pay if they want to use this service.

The costs will vary jurisdiction by jurisdiction, said Brian Shepherd, Colorado’s FirstNet state point of contact.

Rivada, a rival telecommunications company, says AT&T will charge agencies between $40 and $60 per month, per unit. Rivada offered the same service for 1 penny per month, said Brian Carney, Rivada’s senior vice president for communications.

Rivada got the nod from Colorado to build an alternative network, if the state decided not to join FirstNet.

Denver Fire Chief Eric Tade said during Monday’s Facebook broadcast that the state committee’s governing board went through all the opt-out and opt-in analysis.

“AT&T is committing an additional 35 sites to Colorado, providing public safety broadband coverage to the entire state,” Tade said during Monday’s Facebook broadcast.

Staff writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.