Excerpt from remarks to Boston College Chief Executives Club
February 15, 2018
This is a big deal. Abby’s referring to FirstNet, which is—First Responder Network is what it’s representing. And as Abby said, after 9/11, you recall what happened in Manhattan or in downtown, in New York. EMS, fire department, police were all coming in and converging, and it was a crisis, and it was chaos. None of the first responders could communicate with each other. They could all communicate with themselves but not with each other. It was a bad situation. And other first responders from other communities came in to try to assist, and there was just no way for the agencies to interact with each other and to communicate by radio and so forth.
So legislation was passed that said we need to deal with this as a country, and our first responders need to have a network that is interoperable—they can all talk to each other. Firefighters from New York can communicate with firefighters in Boston if there’s a big disaster, and the police can communicate with the firefighters and EMS and so forth. So legislation was passed for the government to contract to build a network for first responders—a wireless network for first responders. So it’s been a number of years. A lot transpired. And ultimately the government did something. They auctioned off a big block of wireless airwaves back in—I think it was 2014. This was smart. And I think this is actually going to prove to be a model around the world for how you deal with these kind of communication needs.
But they auctioned off a lot of these airwaves. We were the largest bidder. We spent a lot of money—billions and billions of dollars, over $10 billion in that auction. And of the money the government received in that auction, we actually spent $18 billion, to be candid. It was in the public domain. So we spent $18 billion. The government carved out $6.5 billion of that money from that auction, and they had another block of these airwaves, and they said everybody come in and bid. Who wants to build out this nationwide network for the first responder community? Whoever wins the bid will get this spectrum to build that network in, so it’s dedicated for our first responder community, and the government will put the first $6.5 billion forward to build this network.
And AT&T—we went hard after this. This became a must win for AT&T. This is something we wanted to do. We thought it was just a big thing to do with the country, a public/private partnership of scale like I don’t think we’ve seen in this country for a long time. We bid to spend $40 billion to build out this network. And we won it. We won it last year.
So, we have a number of years to get this network built, but it requires us to cover the entire country with high-speed wireless capability. That’s really great for first responders, and I’m excited about that. But it also is a big deal for our rural communities, because we are now building out mobile broadband capability that will cover the entire United States. It’s going to be a very pervasive build. And where we build this network, here in Boston and down in Florida particularly, it will be what we call a hardened network. It’s going to have bunkering. It’s going to have serious backup power to all these cell sites and so forth to withstand hurricanes, flooding, etc. After this past year, you saw the importance of having that kind of hardening of these networks that can withstand serious natural disasters and man-made disasters as well. So, we won this.
The other thing about it is as we go around building this network, you’ve probably heard a lot about 5G technology—fifth-generation technology. This is taking the wireless service that you have now and putting it on steroids.This is game-changing technology. As we’re building this network, we’ll be equipping all of our cell sites around the country for this next wave of technology. So it’s going to help accelerate a new wave of technology. This is as much game-changing technology as anything I’ve been a part of in my career, and I’ve been doing this 35 years.