FirstNet budget passes with more than $500 million for network improvements

Now that the initial build-out of the FirstNet network has been completed, the First Responders Network Authority is turning its attention to continuing upgrades and coverage expansion.

Yesterday, the FirstNet Authority board passed its fiscal 2025 budget, which included $50 million in reserves, $100 million for the federal agency’s operating budget and $534 million for network reinvestment. One of FirstNet’s previously announced reinvestment priorities is the building of 1,000 new cellular sites over the next two years, to continue to bring FirstNet coverage to more areas. 

“The FirstNet Authority is focused on evolving and enhancing FirstNet, so it meets the needs of public safety now and in the future,” said Chief Richard Carrizzo, chair of the FirstNet Authority board. “This budget will enable our team to continue to engage with and advocate for the nation’s public safety community and advance communications for first responders nationwide.”

The FirstNet network is a public-private partnership that provides first responders around the country with services including priority, preemption and a private core via AT&T’s network infrastructure and a combination of FirstNet and AT&T spectrum. According to the Authority, the network currently serves more than 28,000 public safety organizations and agencies across the U.S., with a user base of more than 6 million connections.

“We are committed to investing in the future of FirstNet and public safety communications through innovation and expanding coverage,” said FirstNet Authority Executive Director and CEO Joe Wassel, in a comment on the newly passed budget. “We will ensure the network is available where public safety stakeholders need it, including in rural areas, territories, and tribal lands across the country. This is a top priority for the FirstNet Authority.”

FirstNet announced early this year its long-term plan to reinvest more than $8 billion over 10 years in the network, which will bring “full 5G to FirstNet” and include thousands of new sites to expand coverage. The agency has emphasized that it will continue to operate a dual-mode 4G/5G network as more 5G capabilities are phased in. One thousand new sites are set to be built within the next two years, and FirstNet is expected to eventually move to a 5G Standalone network core as part of its evolution over the coming decade.

“By transitioning to a fully 5G network, FirstNet will achieve greater capacity and lower latency. This means the network will be able to move more data faster, allowing for the transmission of high-quality video, more accurate imaging, better situational awareness, and real-time voice and data sharing,” wrote Jasper Bruner, the FirstNet Authority’s national Tribal government liaison, in a recent blog post. Bruner noted that FirstNet covers more than 2.91 million square miles nationwide currently, and that Tribal lands saw an increase of more than 40% for FirstNet coverage between 2020 and 2022. 

FirstNet has previously focused its network-related investments on deployables and a 5G Non-Standalone network core.

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