AT&T will deploy infrastructure on the 20 MHz of 700 MHz Band 14 spectrum that is licensed to FirstNet only in geographic locations where the carrier giant determines it needs additional bandwidth capacity, an AT&T executive said during a Senate subcommittee hearing yesterday.

AT&T’s contract with FirstNet requires the carrier to deploy a percentage of the public-safety network that operates on Band 14—or Band Class 14—spectrum while meeting annual benchmarks for coverage, according to Chris Sambar, senior vice president for AT&T-FirstNet.

“We have to hit those milestones in order to receive the payments due to us from FirstNet,” Sambar said during the hearing, which was webcast. “If we don’t hit those milestones, we don’t receive the payments, so we will be aggressively building out Band Class 14 for first responders.”

Until the Band 14 portion of the FirstNet system is built, public-safety users that subscribe to FirstNet will utilize AT&T’s existing commercial network that operates on multiple spectral bands, benefiting from priority access immediately and preemptive access by the end of the year, Sambar said. This priority and preemption functionality across all AT&T spectrum bands means that public safety will not notice a performance difference, he said.

“If you are a first responder, … you will not know whether you are on Band Class 14 or any other AT&T band, but you will have the exact same experience, regardless of what band you are on,” Sambar said.

With this in mind, AT&T does not plan to blanket the United States with Band 14 network coverage, Sambar said.

“We are building Band Class 14 where we need the capacity in our network,” he said. “So, in order to provide priority and preemptive services to first responders and have enough capacity for everyone that’s on the network—including first responders—there are places where we will need additional capacity. That’s where we build [Band Class 14 infrastructure].”

Sambar acknowledged that this approach is structured in a manner that likely differs from the vision that many public-safety officials expected from the FirstNet initiative.

“Public safety has been told for many years that the magic of FirstNet happens on Band Class 14,” Sambar said. “We’ve changed that. That’s not correct anymore. The magic happens on the AT&T network, period—it doesn’t matter where you are [spectrally], you’re going to have the exact same experience. We’ve extended it far beyond the Band Class 14 to our entire network.”

AT&T will decide when it will deploy Band 14 network infrastructure based “capacity triggers” that are determined on a “tower-by-tower” basis, Sambar said.