- Associated Press - Friday, February 14, 2020

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - New Hampshire has made significant progress in connecting to a national public safety communications system created in response to the Sept. 11 attacks, state officials said Friday.

The inability of some police and fire departments to communicate with one another over incompatible radio systems in 2001 led to the development of the First Responder Network Authority, or FirstNet. The system is being built as part of a public-private partnership by AT&T, which recently added four new towers to its New Hampshire system.

The new sites, in Stoddard, North Hampton, Rumney and Pembroke, are in addition to eight previously built towers, and there are plans to add 16 more this year, said Owen Smith, president of AT&T New Hampshire. The more than 100 participating public safety agencies in the state also have access to dozens of deployable portable cell sites.

“These are significant milestones in the FirstNet plan for New Hampshire, but they won’t be the last. The buildout is ongoing and will continue to touch all corners of the state,” he said.

The Derry Police Department was the first New Hampshire agency to join FirstNet in the fall 2018. Before then, a deluge of high school students getting on their phones after school was enough to slow or halt connectivity among police cruisers, said Chief Edward Garone.

“FirstNet and AT&T resolved that issue on Day 1,” he said. “All of our communications needs take priority over all else.”

In December 2017, Gov. Chris Sununu announced that the state planned to contract with a different company, Rivada Networks, because it would have allowed the state to retain more control. But with no other states following suit, he reversed course a few weeks later, saying the risk of going it alone was too great given the regulatory and financial hurdles.

On Friday, he said New Hampshire is building “the best system and the best deal in the country.”

“It’s a system that is truly integrated up and down, from those right on the front lines of these emergencies, all the way up the line,” said Sununu, a Republican. “The whole point is, this is seamless communication wherever you are in the state when emergencies do arise.”

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