U.S. awards AT&T contract to build emergency broadband network

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An AT&T sign is seen outside a branch in Rolling Meadows, Illinois, U.S., October 24, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Young (Copyright Reuters 2017)

The U.S. Department of Commerce on Thursday awarded a 25-year contract to AT&T Inc for the construction of a nationwide wireless broadband network to better equip first responders during emergencies.

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FirstNet, an independent arm of the Department of Commerce, will provide the No. 2 U.S. wireless carrier with 20 megahertz of telecom spectrum and success-based payments of $6.5 billion over the next five years.

The effort to set up a public safety network was triggered by communications failures during the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, when first responders were unable to effectively communicate as they used different technologies and networks.

A dedicated public safety broadband network was a recommendation of the 9/11 Commission.

The network will help emergency medical personnel, firefighters and police officers communicate vital information on one single network in real time.

Among the bidders for the contract was a consortium formed by wireless network operator Rivada Networks, which has former Florida Governor Jeb Bush on its board. The consortium - Rivada Mercury - includes Intel Corp, Fujitsu Ltd, Ericsson, Nokia and Harris Corp.

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FirstNet, which stands for First Responder Network Authority, was formed under the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, which had earmarked $7 billion for building a broadband network.

(Reporting by Laharee Chatterjee and Narottam Medhora in Bengaluru; Editing by Sai Sachin Ravikumar)