Public-safety communications is the focus of AT&T’s deployment of the FirstNet nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN), but the carrier giant also expects the initiative to generate key benefits in smart cities and other key growth areas beyond the first-responder community, according to an AT&T executive.

John Stephens, chief financial officer (CFO) for AT&T, said during a recent Morgan Stanley conference in Barcelona that company officials are “really proud to be involved as a provider of communications services for the first responders in our country—it’s something that a 140-year-old company takes pride in, helping the public.”

Verizon has been the largest provider of broadband services to public safety for years, but the FirstNet initiative gives AT&T a chance to change that market condition, Stephens said.

“We don’t have a large share of the first-responder market,” he said. “So, this will be a new area for us to get into and a new opportunity, which gives us a way to grow our customer base.”

And that growth opportunity is not limited to just the public-safety sector, Stephens said.

“Quite frankly, when you’re in talking to the fire chief, the chief of police or the people who run the emergency medical services, it’s pretty easy to then go to the mayor or the county commissioner and say, “How about we do smart cities for you? How about we help you with your traffic problem? How about we help you with your parking problem? How about we help you with conserving water and power?’” Stephens said. “Because we can put these monitors and these sensors in at the same time we’re building out all of this capacity for this FirstNet network.”

This synergistic philosophy also is a key component of AT&T’s overall network-deployment strategy, as the carrier plans to leverage its FirstNet investments in a manner that helps best position AT&T as a broadband provider in the consumer market and in crucial enterprise markets.

“We think it is a very, very significant item, even for a company as large as AT&T,” Stephens said.

As part of AT&T’s FirstNet contract, the carrier is eligible to gain access to the nationwide 2x10 MHz swath of prime 700 MHz spectrum—known as Band 14—that is licensed to FirstNet, as well as $6.5 billion in funding from FirstNet that is expected to be paid in installments as AT&T meets certain deployment goals.

Both the geographic spectrum access and the funding amount are tied to governors accepting the FirstNet deployment plan by making an “opt-in” decision or taking no action, which results in the state being treated as an “opt-in” entity. If a governor makes an “opt-out” decision, AT&T would not have access rights to the spectrum in that state and a not receive a portion of the funding associated with that state.

To date, governors in 33 states and two territories have announced “opt-in” decisions. No governors have announced plans to pursue the “opt-out” alternative, which also requires the state to complete several key steps and secure approvals from the FCC and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), as well as reach a spectrum-lease agreement with FirstNet.

“If you think about it, getting a national footprint for a 2x10 700 MHz spectrum, it’s pretty remarkable,” Stephens said. “That is just a tremendous opportunity to not only get funding to build coverage and capacity but also to get spectrum for that.”