U.S. awards AT&T contract to build wireless network for first responders

An AT&T sign is seen outside a branch in Rolling Meadows, Illinois, U.S., October 24, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Young

(Reuters) - The United States on Thursday awarded a contract to AT&T Inc to build a nationwide wireless broadband network to better equip first responders, years after a federal commission recommended setting up such a system following the 9/11 attacks.

FirstNet, an independent arm of the Department of Commerce, will provide No. 2 U.S. wireless carrier AT&T with telecom spectrum and success-based payments of $6.5 billion over the next five years.

The effort to set up a public safety network was triggered by communications failures during the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, when first responders were unable to effectively communicate as they used different technologies and networks.

The FirstNet network will help emergency medical personnel, firefighters and police officers communicate vital information on one single network in real time, as opposed to using thousands of separate, incompatible systems.

The 9/11 Commission, set up by Congress to look into the attacks and propose ways to prevent such actions in the future, in 2004 recommended the setting up of a dedicated public safety broadband network.

The rollout of the network, which will cover will cover all states, five U.S. territories and the District of Columbia, will begin later this year, AT&T said on Thursday.

AT&T will spend about $40 billion over the period of the 25-year agreement to build, operate and maintain the network.

Among the bidders for the contract was a consortium formed by wireless network operator Rivada Networks, which has former Florida Governor Jeb Bush on its board. The consortium - Rivada Mercury - includes Intel Corp, Fujitsu Ltd, Ericsson, Nokia and Harris Corp.

FirstNet, which stands for First Responder Network Authority, was formed under the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, which had earmarked $7 billion for building a broadband network.

Reporting by Laharee Chatterjee and Narottam Medhora in Bengaluru; Editing by Sai Sachin Ravikumar