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FirstNet opt-ins continue to roll in, with Tennessee and Puerto Rico signing on to approve buildout plans to use FirstNet and AT&T’s nationwide network for first responders. (*Editor's note: Nebraska also announced Friday that it has opted into FirstNet)

Hawaii and Alaska also announced their decision to opt-in to FirstNet earlier this week. 

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam and Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló on Thursday accepted FirstNet and AT&T’s plan to build, operate, and maintain a highly secure wireless broadband communications network for the state’s public safety community.

“Reliable communications are vital to public safety’s life-saving mission,” FirstNet CEO Mike Poth commented. “Governor Haslam’s decision will help deliver innovation and interoperability to emergency personnel across Tennessee’s diverse landscape – including its rural, mountainous, and remote areas, as well as federal lands. FirstNet looks forward to continuing our partnership with Tennessee to ensure the network meets public safety’s needs – now and in the future.”

FirstNet and AT&T said they designed the state’s network solution with input from officials and public safety personnel to address communications needs unique to Tennessee. Some of those needs include expanding communications and technology in rural regions and state parks that are designated as emergency staging areas, preparing for the possibility of a serious seismic even along the New Madrid fault line, and expanding network capacity for Tennessee’s growing population in urban areas.

The network for Puerto Rico meanwhile, will improve coverage along critical coastal areas, and help first responders support large events, such as the San Sebastian Street Festival in Old San Juan that brings in more than a quarter of a million people each year.

As with others that have opted in, Tennessee and Puerto Rico’s first responders will immediately gain access to AT&T’s nationwide LTE network. Preemption for primary users is expected by year-end, the carrier said.

With the latest additions, 20 states and territories have opted in to FirstNet. Those that previously signed on include: Virginia, Wyoming, Arkansas, Kentucky, Iowa, New Jersey, West Virginia, U.S. Virgin Islands, New Mexico, Michigan, Maine, Montana, Arizona, Kansas, Nevada.

“FirstNet will give public safety the nationwide, interoperable communications system that they’ve spent years advocating for,” Poth noted. “Every governor that opts in is helping to answer that call. After years fighting to achieve this mission, it’s exciting to say a third of states and territories have moved to deliver the future of public safety to their first responders.”

In a July earnings call AT&T CFO John Stephens said FirstNet spectrum in the participating states could go live as soon as later this year.

He also noted that AT&T is not looking at the FirstNet build as just a way to improve coverage for first responders, but the carrier also sees it as an opportunity to boost activity in the smart cities and Internet of Things segments to help government agencies manage other parts of their activities as well. More on that here

Verizon, meanwhile, announced plans in August to build its own dedicated network core for first responders.

The carrier stressed that it considers the network core solution to be a complement to FirstNet rather than an alternative, noting that it will simply give first responders additional choices.

However the development appears to be setting up a fight between Verizon and AT&T for public safety users since Verizon indicated it will offer multi-band devices that provide Band 14 access and enable full interoperability with Band 14 radio access networks deployed by FirstNet.

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