communications tower (noolwlee/Shutterstock.com)

FirstNet adds cell sites in West Virginia, Wisconsin's Red Cliff Reservation

First responders serving the Red Cliff Reservation in northern Wisconsin will soon be getting a new, purpose-built cell site to improve their access to broadband communications. The site -- located on tribal land near the Apostle Islands in the northern part of the reservation -- was identified as a prime spot for increasing network coverage and capacity to better support emergency communications. The tribe worked with the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) on an agreement to construct the tower, and officials broke ground May 29.

“When emergencies happen, it is critical that tribal law enforcement, firefighters and paramedics have the reliable communications tools they need to keep the tribal members and surrounding community safe while also protecting visitors to tribal lands,” tribal IT Director Theron Rutyna said. “Breaking ground on this new cell site will not only support the public safety mission, but it will also pave the way for new technical capabilities and innovations -- furthering economic opportunity and extending access to telehealth, online learning and overall communications during emergencies.”

The tribe has been working for around 15 years to bring a cell tower to the reservation -- only about 20% of which has cell phone coverage, Rutyna told Wisconsin Public Radio. Up to five providers may be able to co-locate on the tower, he said, making cell service available in about 80% of the reservation and in surrounding communities and the Apostle Islands on Lake Superior.

In Preston County, W.Va., meanwhile, first responders will also be getting a major upgrade in their access to broadband communications. The new cell site on Laurel Mountain is part of the FirstNet build-out in West Virginia, which is bringing increased coverage, capacity and capability to responders across the state and will help address rural connectivity challenges.

The new site will also improve the overall coverage for AT&T wireless customers in Preston County. AT&T worked the state to identify coverage gaps that affect public safety and plans to build dozens of new towers for its commercial network over the next five years, according to a report in MetroNews. One year into the deployment, Preston County’s tower is one of the first being built.

FirstNet is the nationwide, broadband wireless public-safety communications network designed help first responders quickly get the critical information they need.  AT&T won the contract in March 2017 to build the network in a public-private partnership with the First Responder Network Authority.

FirstNet now has more than 600,000 device connections, is being used by more than 7,250 public safety agencies and supports over 100 devices that have been approved and certified for use on the network.

About the Author

Susan Miller is executive editor at GCN.

Over a career spent in tech media, Miller has worked in editorial, print production and online, starting on the copy desk at IDG’s ComputerWorld, moving to print production for Federal Computer Week and later helping launch websites and email newsletter delivery for FCW. After a turn at Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology, where she worked to promote technology-based economic development, she rejoined what was to become 1105 Media in 2004, eventually managing content and production for all the company's government-focused websites. Miller shifted back to editorial in 2012, when she began working with GCN.

Miller has a BA and MA from West Chester University and did Ph.D. work in English at the University of Delaware.

Connect with Susan at smiller@gcn.com or @sjaymiller.

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