New wireless broadband network coming to Washington

Washington’s first responders will soon have an easier time communicating with each other during emergencies and natural disasters.

Governor Jay Inslee on Wednesday announced Washington will join the First Responder Network Authority, or FirstNet.

The federal agency and AT&T will build a wireless broadband network specifically for the state’s public safety community, to assist first responders in being able to talk with each other when cell towers are overwhelmed.

The network would give preference to first responder calls, ensuring that they’re able to communicate with each other during large events, similar to the Seahawks Super Bowl victory parade in 20145, when local cell towers were clogged up.

“There were 300,000 people in downtown Seattle.  Everybody was texting and tweeting and posting on Facebook on their mobile phones.  And the cell networks were congested,” said Bill Schrier, FirstNet Senior Advisor. “With FirstNet, cops, firefighters, and paramedics will have priority.  And they’ll be able to help people.”

The new network won’t disrupt 911 calls or other cell traffic.

As part of the agreement, AT&T will use federal funding to build new cell towers around the state that will help improve existing cell phone service in many rural and tribal areas.