Rio Grande Electric Cooperative In FirstNet Pilot Program

Linemen from the Alpine Operations area assisted the Technical Services Department with configuration of one of the test sites in that area. Photo by IT/Network Specialist Nicholas Ruiz.

Rio Grande has been participating in a pilot program of FirstNet, which is the only nationwide wireless broadband communications platform dedicated to America’s first responders and public safety community. It came about as the result of a public/private partnership between the First Responder Network Authority and AT&T.

Based on recommendations from the 9/11 Commission Report, legislation was passed in 2012 to combine private sector resources, infrastructure, expertise, and economies of scale with government resources. This includes “Band 14”, which is a highly desirable spectrum dedicated to public safety by the Federal government, to operate a first responder network.

Exclusively for first responders and those who support their vital efforts, FirstNet provides secure and reliable connectivity -- even where none other exists, such as in much of Rio Grande Electric’s (RGEC's) service territory. It has been described as “public safety’s VIP lane.”

RGEC successfully piloted FirstNet at several substations and potential generation sites, including one at which only the FirstNet equipment could communicate. Among these were: Altuda, Cienega, City of Presidio, Comstock, Lajitas, Oro Grande, Pat Lee, Persimmon Gap, Hueco, Study Butte, and a site on personal property, where one of RGEC’s partner solar sites will be installed.

Another benefit is that FirstNet can boost cellular transmission strength by up to 6x, so FirstNet users can maintain critical connectivity throughout more of their areas of operation than ever before. This is a very important feature with regard to RGEC. The system is touted for the transmission of stronger signal strength, and increased coverage in rural and dense urban areas. Increased building penetration -- the ability to receive/send signals from deep inside concrete buildings, elevators, basements, and parking garages, makes it ideal for Rio Grande’s staff to utilize in areas where mountainous terrain or rocky outcroppings could prevent signals otherwise.