Montana Gov. Steve Bullock today announced his decision to accept the nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN) deployment plan offered by FirstNet and AT&T on behalf of his state, making Montana the 11th state to “opt-in” to the FirstNet system.

“This partnership will allow us to provide our first responders increased capabilities to communicate effectively with the public as quickly as possible,” Bullock said in a prepared statement. “As wildfires across the state impact our communities and our hometowns, it’s critical that we support the efforts of the men and women protecting Montana with all resources available.”

Under the law that established FirstNet, governors in all 56 states and territories have the choice of making an “opt-in” decision—accepting the FirstNet deployment plan and allowing AT&T to build the LTE radio access network (RAN) within the state’s borders at no cost to the state—or pursuing the “opt-out” alternative, which would require the state to be responsible for building and maintaining the RAN for the next 25 years.

FirstNet released its initial state plans on June 19 and made them actionable, so governors would have the opportunity to “opt-in” to FirstNet prior to the final state plans. Previously, 10 other states—Virginia, Wyoming, Arkansas, Kentucky, Iowa, New Jersey, West Virginia, New Mexico, Michigan and Maine—have announced their “opt-in” decisions, as did the U.S. Virgin Islands territory.

“Governor Bullock’s decision to join FirstNet demonstrates Montana’s strong commitment to public safety,” said FirstNet CEO Mike Poth. "With this decision, Montana is putting 21st-century, lifesaving tools in the hands of the state’s first responders, bringing a modern, broadband platform to public safety across the state—including over rural, mountainous and remote locales.

“FirstNet looks forward to continuing to work with Montana to equip the state’s first responders with this vital technology, which will help them in their mission to save lives and keep Montana’s communities safe.”

AT&T officials have stated that deployment of LTE on FirstNet’s 700 MHz Band 14 spectrum could begin as early as this year in certain parts of the country. Public-safety agencies in “opt-in” states are eligible to sign FirstNet contracts that give first responders priority access across AT&T’s commercial networks immediately and preemptive access by the end of the year.

“FirstNet will give Montana’s first responders access to the critical communications capabilities they need when seconds count and lives hang in the balance,” Tara Thue, director for AT&T Montana, said in a prepared statement. “AT&T has invested nearly $150 million in our Montana network infrastructure over the past 3 years.

“With Governor Bullock’s decision to opt-in to FirstNet, Montana will not only be able to expand and enhance communications capabilities for first responders, but the state will also be able to drive additional investment to deliver reliable, high-speed wireless connections in areas with little or no connectivity today.”