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A police officer speaks into his radio in Times Square. Photo: Andrew Burton / Getty Images

All 50 states — and Washington D.C., the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico — have opted to join the first nationwide mobile broadband network specifically dedicated to first-responders, known as FirstNet. It will be built out next year.

Why it matters: Firefighters, paramedics, police officers and other first responders have historically been at a disadvantage when it comes to mobile communications. Local jurisdictions use different communication technologies that are not interoperable, so first responders from different cities or states have not been able to communicate effectively during emergencies, when commercial networks tend to be more congested. Public safety officials have been pushing for a nationwide network for first-responders' use since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

How it happened: Congress passed legislation in 2012 to establish the first responder network to be built with $7 billion in proceeds from a government airwave auction. (This was funded by a 2015 FCC auction.) AT&T won the contract to build the network in a public-private partnership. Every state governor had the option to be covered by the broadband network or build their own infrastructure to meet the first responders' needs. All states agreed to join by yesterday's opt-in deadline.

How it will work: With the help of the $7 billion auction proceeds, AT&T will build the nationwide network using the set-aside radio-frequencies.

  • "Fast lane": First responders get their own "fast lane" on the network to communicate during emergencies or large events.The core network will be built by Spring 2018, with the full network being complete over 3 to 5 years.
  • Boon for AT&T: The company gets access to a sizable swatch of airwaves, which are extremely valuable because they can travel decent distances and through obstructions like trees and buildings.
  • Sharing bandwidth: When the airwaves are not in use by public safety agencies, AT&T can use these airwaves to supplement their own commercial wireless coverage — a significant incentive to agree to the government requirements for building the network.
  • The catch: If first responders need to use the network, commercial applications will be slowed down or bumped off to give first responders priority access. This will also be a boon for cell-site tower companies that will be needed to build the nationwide network in both cities and rural areas.
  • App Store: FirstNet will have an app store with approved mobile apps that are optimized for public safety use.
  • Security: The network will provide full encryption of public safety data, and states will have access to a dedicated Security Operations Center.

One quick thing: Although it took years for the government to design and allocate resources to this network, it's been one of the few bi-partisan telecom-related issues of the past decade. It's also the biggest test yet of a public-private partnership model that allows government and industry share valuable resource that's in high demand.

Go deeper

Parkland shooting victims' families settle suit with school district

A makeshift memorial outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14, 2020. Photo: Matias J. Ocner/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Families and survivors of a 2018 mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., reached a $25 million settlement in their lawsuit against the Broward County school district Monday, per the South Florida SunSentinel.

Why it matters: The deal was reached in the suit over the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High after the school district won a Florida Supreme Court ruling that could have capped damages at $300,000 in total without approval from the state legislature, AP notes.

Texas Republicans pass new congressional maps in their favor

Photo: Matthew Busch/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Texas House voted 84-59 late Monday to approve new congressional district maps that reduce the number of districts with Black and Hispanic majorities, per the Texas Tribune.

Why it matters: The legislation comes after recent census figures found Texas' growing diverse population doesn't bode well for Republicans, who then worked to protect incumbents with the redrawn maps.

2 hours ago - World

North Korea's military fires another ballistic missile into sea

A woman in Seoul, South Korea, walks past a television image if North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Photo: Jung Yeon-je/AFP via Getty Images

North Korea's military fired at least one ballistic missile into the sea off its east coast on Tuesday, per multiple reports.

Why it matters: Pyongyang's latest in a series of recent missile launches happened hours after U.S. officials emphasized their commitment to restart negotiations on North Korea's nuclear weapons program, which have stalled since talks broke down during the Trump administration, AP notes.

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