Broadband network aims to help rural first responders

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Seconds can mean life or death for first responders, when they’re rushing to help you.

That help could get even better, thanks to a first responders broadband internet network that’s rolling out across Indiana.

24-Hour News 8 spent Friday digging into what this means for you.

It’s called Firstnet, and it’s designed to move key information faster and easier among first responders, mainly in rural areas.

“Every second could potentially save a life,” Chief Bill Zeunik, of the Pittsboro Fire Department, said.

So, it’s vital that Zeunik’s more than 40 firefighters get all the information quickly, when responding to emergencies.

Right now, their trucks have mobile hotspots that use broadband internet on a cellular network.

“If we have reliable internet, and there’s another run right down the road, they know they can send us on it, and we can assist people right away,” Zeunik explained.

But sometimes in rural areas, that broadband connection can get a little spotty or slow down, which can be frustrating.

“It can be, but we have back ups as far as the radios,” Zeunik continued.

So, the state of Indiana is changing that coverage.

This week, Governor Holcomb opted Indiana into FirstNet. It’s a federal broadband network, along with AT&T, meant only for first responders to use for emergency communication. It basically clears a way in commercial broadband traffic.

“I think it would be a great thing for many departments,” Zeunik said.

Marty Shaw, who lives in a rural area, likes the idea, too.

When asked if he thinks the new service could potentially save lives in Indiana, Shaw said, “Oh, without a doubt. Especially out here in rural areas.”

FirstNet won’t cost you a dime, but it will cost first responding agencies a fee if they join. A FirstNet rep said the fee varies, but it could be the same or less than current broadband carrier prices, which this would replace.

Zeunik said he pays about $400 a month for MiFi hotspot service.

“Depending on the fee, it could be a huge savings,” He said.

FirstNet said agencies can sign up now.

So, when can we start to see the services across Indiana?

A Firstnet representative says Indiana can expect to start getting infrastructure in early 2018. That means more cell phone towers and more equipment across Indiana.