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South Dakota Participating In New Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network

Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet

The Pennington County Sheriff’s Office was looking for a missing man last fall in a remote, high-elevation part of the western Black Hills.

Capt. Tony Harrison said there was no cell-phone service.

“And so we called FirstNet, and probably within 12 to 14 hours they had a mobile cell tower there, so that we were able to fully communicate back and forth with dispatch," Harrison said.

FirstNet is a new and growing national broadband network dedicated to the needs of law enforcement. It arose out of the tragedy of 9-11, when emergency responders had difficulty communicating.

Congress created the independent FirstNet authority in 2012. The authority awarded a $6.5 billion contract to AT&T in 2017. AT&T is building the nationwide network with a combination of permanent sites, like cell towers, and temporary deployable devices.

The deployable devices help in isolated areas. FirstNet has mobile cell sites on the ground, on drones and even on a blimp. The devices are staged around the country for quick deployment.

Capt. Harrison testified to a congressional subcommittee Thursday at the invitation of U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. Thune chaired a subcommittee hearing to review FirstNet’s progress.

“This is a subject that we’ll continue to pay attention to here," Thune said, "and obviously we want to make sure that everything is moving forward as smoothly as possible.”

Officials from FirstNet and AT&T said the network build-out is on schedule and within budget. Much of the build-out is scheduled for completion by 2023. The contract with AT&T lasts for 25 years to continue maintaining and improving the network.

-Seth Tupper is SDPB's business and economic development reporter.

Seth supervises SDPB's beat reporters and newscast team. He works at SDPB's Black Hills Studio in Rapid City.
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