ORLANDO—Personnel within the utility, transportation and healthcare sectors are among those qualified to subscribe to FirstNet and have priority access across the AT&T system, but many questions remain about the “extended primary” category of users and some details regarding the prioritization-selection process, according to AT&T officials.

AT&T is contracted to build, maintain and upgrade the FirstNet nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN), and the telecom giant has agreed to provide preemptive access to “primary” FirstNet subscribers—fire, EMS, law-enforcement, 911 and emergency-operations-centers users.

However, the process for determining who else is eligible to access the FirstNet system—the “extended primary” subscribers—has been more complicated, because there are so many varied uses cases for certain personnel to support a public-safety response, according to Walt Rivenbark, AT&T’s assistant vice president for public safety and FirstNet.

“We’re listening to customers,” Rivenbark said yesterday during an IWCE 2018 workshop. “We don’t think we have it all figured out.”

Chris Sambar, AT&T’s senior vice president for FirstNet, expressed a similar sentiment during an interview last week with IWCE’s Urgent Communications.

“The definition of primary and extended primary was not a hard-and-fast definition in the contract—purposely—and we’re kind of learning as we go,” Sambar said. “We keep getting different [extended-primary] use cases every day.”

This is because the key driver in determining who qualifies to be an “extended primary” user is whether the person works with public safety during emergency responses. That can vary greatly in each community, as people with the same job title may have drastically different roles.

“We’re trying to sort through it,” Sambar said. “We want to maintain the integrity of the system and make sure that the right people are getting access to the network, but we don’t want to go overboard and let everybody on.”

Rivenbark also emphasized the need for network integrity, noting that providing too many people with priority access to AT&T’s network would negate the effectiveness of the prioritization scheme.

The key driver in determining who qualifies to be an “extended primary” user is whether they work with public safety during emergency responses, Rivenbark said. Some guidance is provided in the law that established FirstNet, but the FirstNet Eligibility Council is developing a list of eligible subscribers to the FirstNet system, he said.

“If there’s a group that’s not eligible that you think should be eligible, bring that [concern] to your FirstNet solution specialist, and they can voice that concern to the [FirstNet Eligibility Council],” Rivenbark said.

Within the primary category, there will be three tiers of prioritization when AT&T completes the FirstNet LTE core—something that is scheduled to happen this month—while extended-primary users will have the same level of prioritization, without preemptive access. However, a primary user can “uplift” an extended-primary user to the primary level temporarily, if needed—for example, a utility worker helping to clear a downed power line that is blocking a road.