North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper today announced that he has accepted the nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN) deployment plan offered by FirstNet and AT&T on behalf of his state, making North Carolina the 30th state—not including two territories—to “opt-in” to the FirstNet system.

“We must do all we can to make sure North Carolina is ready to respond to emergencies and keep the public safe,” Cooper said in a prepared statement. “Communication is key in times of crisis and this technology can help strengthen public safety by keeping our first responders connected.”

Within five years, AT&T projects that the FirstNet system in North Carolina will provide coverage to 99% of the state’s population and at least 91% of the state’s geography, according to a press release from the state of North Carolina.

“First responders deserve a state-of-the-art communications system, and we believe this is the first step toward building that system,” Eric Boyette, North Carolina’s CIO and secretary of the state’s department of information technology (DIT), said in a prepared statement. “DIT has worked with public safety and IT professionals since 2014 to make sure that the people of North Carolina get the service they deserve. Ultimately, we will all be safer once this network is in place.”

First-responder representatives in North Carolina applauded Cooper’s “opt-in” decision.
“Rapid emergency response relies on the efficiency of communication among federal, state and local partners,” Col. Glenn McNeill Jr., commander of the North Carolina state highway patrol, said in a prepared statement. “This new technology provides state-of-the-art resources for responding to future disaster situations.”

Red Grasso, who leads the FirstNet effort in North Carolina, echoed this sentiment.
“As a former firefighter, I am excited about the opportunity that the FirstNet project brings to North Carolina’s responders,” Grasso said in a prepared statement. “FirstNet is putting public safety in the forefront of technology innovation, and—though it will not replace two-way radios—it will start to bring data connectivity to the same level of service.”

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 being released on Sept. 29. Governors in the 53 states and territories that received initial state plans on June 19—the exceptions being the Pacific territories of Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Island, which will have a separate timetable—are required to make their “opt-in/opt-out” decisions by Dec. 28.

With the North Carolina announcement, FirstNet has reached the 60% threshold for “opt-in” announcements, both for state decisions and decisions made by the 53 states and territories that face the Dec. 28 deadline.

“Gov. Cooper's decision to make FirstNet services available in his state demonstrates his strong commitment to public safety,” FirstNet CEO Mike Poth said in a prepared statement. “We look forward to continuing to work with North Carolina’s first responders to help ensure they receive access to the sustainable, cutting-edge network they need to connect local, state, tribal and federal first responders across the Tarheel State.”

With Cooper’s announcement, North Carolina becomes the sixth state to announce an “opt-in” decision after issuing a request for proposals (RFP) seeking bids from vendors willing to deploy and maintain an alternative RAN. Previously, the states of Michigan, Arizona, Alabama, Pennsylvania and Oklahoma issued RFPs but later saw their governors announce “opt-in” decisions.