The Fairfax County fire department was the first public-safety agency to sign a FirstNet contract. Bowers said his department has been pleased with the service to date, particularly as personnel utilized priority service on the AT&T network during travels to Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico in response to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.

“Fairfax County was proud to be an initial partner,” Bowers said. “AT&T has been great to work with. FirstNet has been great to work with. They lay everything out. They tell us what the plan is. They tell us how they’re going to implement it.

“But more importantly, they ask for our feedback. Because the boots on the ground are the ones who need this ability to be able to communicate. If the stuff doesn’t work, then confidence and reliability goes out the door. But we have full confidence and full reliability in our belief in AT&T and FirstNet.”

In August, Verizon announced plans to build a dedicated public-safety network core in 2018 and to provide first-responder users with priority and preemptive access to its network on a similar timeline as AT&T.

In an e-mail today to IWCE’s Urgent Communications, a Verizon spokesman confirmed that the carrier would provide preemption to public safety users—not just law enforcement, fire and EMS, but also “public-safety support” personnel—by the end of the year.

“But remember, services like priority access and preemption would only be necessary if the local network was over capacity,” according to the spokesman. “Coverage, capacity and reliability are what are truly important. When the network is able to handle the traffic riding on it, invoking priority access or preemption wouldn't be necessary.

“For example, in Texas and Florida after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, our network performed extremely well, so we didn't need to make priority access available. Other wireless networks didn't fare as well. And if a network is down, no level of priority access or preemption matters. And nationwide, Verizon's network meets or exceeds most of the public-safety-grade network requirements as defined by NPSTC.” 

In addition, Verizon is committed to completing its dedicated public-safety LTE core network during the first quarter of 2018, according to the spokesman. AT&T has said its public-safety FirstNet core network will be completed in March.