AT&T is proud to operate FirstNet, the only nationwide, high-speed broadband communications platform exclusively for America’s first responders and extended public safety community. From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, FirstNet has been instrumental in helping those on the frontline coordinate and communicate.

Born in a crisis

FirstNet was born out of an earlier crisis: 9/11. Following the attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., firefighters, police, and EMS had difficulty communicating due to heavy demand and incompatible systems. First response needs to be a unified response. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case in September 2001.

As a result, the U.S. Congress created the independent First Responder Network Authority, which in 2017 selected AT&T to build and operate a new kind of network. The goal was to provide first responders in all U.S. jurisdictions dedicated, interoperable and prioritized connections unaffected by commercial network traffic.

Now taking on COVID-19

Since it went into operation in 2018, FirstNet has proved itself in fires, earthquakes and storms. Now, it’s supporting the frontline heroes working to keep America safe and get back on its feet. We see AT&T’s role as giving them close support, from rolling in temporary cell sites to embedding our experts in federal and state emergency operating centers.

In January, we began supporting the first quarantine sites in the U.S. Since then, we’ve continued to deploy equipment, optimize the network and supply devices to support public safety at airports, hospitals, testing centers and other essential locations nationwide.

Here are just a few examples of how we’re helping America’s first responders fight COVID-19:

• Hard-Hit Cities: In New York City, we stepped in to provide EMS and other first responders the connectivity they need. We equipped hundreds of ambulances – from different nearby towns and cities – with interoperable, FirstNet-ready devices. We also deployed a FirstNet portable cell site and new, temporary in-building solutions to increase network capacity for first responders and emergency staff.

• Naval Hospital Ships: We worked to connect two U.S. Navy hospital ships, the USNS Comfort in New York and the USNS Mercy in Los Angeles. These medical treatment facilities were sent to alleviate overcrowding in local hospitals.

• Major Medical Centers: At no additional charge, public safety agencies on FirstNet can request temporary network equipment for emergency support. In northern California, for example, we deployed a FirstNet portable cell site at a medical facility to add capacity for emergency personnel.

• Testing Facilities: We deployed another FirstNet portable cell site to support a drive-thru testing facility in a northeastern state. The site allowed medical professionals and first responders to communicate without worrying about bandwidth once people arrived for testing.

• Logistics Managements: We’ve quickly expanded bandwidth to support a five-fold increase in remote Virtual Private Networking capabilities for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as it manages logistics for the national COVID-19 response.

Built to flex and adapt

We’re determined to deliver the best tools and solutions for these life-saving missions. That’s why we keep updating FirstNet to meet public safety’s changing technical needs and help reduce their costs:

• We expanded FirstNet to give eligible first responder agencies free smartphones for life on unlimited plans. This means law enforcement, fire and EMS agencies will have the latest tools to complete their lifesaving missions.

• We’re also expanding the FirstNet app ecosystem to support our nation’s response to COVID-19. The FirstNet App Catalog includes more than 100 highly secure apps for public safety.

• Through the primary service portal for agencies using FirstNet, public administrators now have easy access to the interactive coronavirus disease dashboard created by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

Serving the medical community

We also recognize the importance of the extended public safety community – which in a pandemic like this, certainly includes doctors and nurses caring for patients under dire conditions.

That’s why we went a step further to support eligible state-licensed nurses and physicians across the U.S. with three months of free wireless service for a smartphone or tablet on a FirstNet individual plan.

We also collaborated with a large U.S. insurance company to expedite our continuing FirstNet network rollout. This will streamline access to affordable, high-speed wireless broadband to promote primary care and telehealth services in rural and underserved communities.

As public safety’s network partner serving all 56 U.S. states and territories, we’re proud to work alongside these brave men and women to ensure they have the critical connectivity they need. Throughout the COVID-19 crisis and beyond, it’s an honor to do all we can for those dedicated to protecting our families and communities.

CEO, AT&T Communications