Will AT&T's FirstNet be able to deliver for Vermont first responders?

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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) Vermont's first responders are getting a new cellular network.

Gov. Phil Scott decided to go with FirstNet this week after reviewing technological, financial and operational issues.

The choice was clear. We just couldn't afford to do this on our own and AT&T -- the FirstNet package -- just made more sense. It will increase coverage for Vermont, for private citizens as well as first responders," Gov. Scott said.

FirstNet is a wireless broadband network for first responders. Congress created it in 2012. AT&T won a bid to build out the network. States were given the option to opt out and build their own networks with federal help.

"It just doesn't make financial sense,” Gov. Scott said. "We don't know how long that federal money would be available. I think it would be risky -- financially risky -- for us to do this on our own.”

Scott's decision follows a recommendation from the Public Safety Broadband Network Commission. The commission considered the federal plan and a proposal from an alternative vendor. Scott says he also consulted with first responders.

Vergennes Police Chief George Merkel heads the Vermont Police Association. He says police around the state have struggled with poor cellular networks. "There is no dedicated line. There is no dedicated cell communications. We have dispatching, but we need a cell service," he said.

Merkel says he thinks FirstNet will help solve the problem. "There will be better coverage throughout the state and that's going to bode well not only for first responders, but I think it will also bode well for commercial," he said.

Former Bristol Fire Chief Peeker Heffernan is skeptical. "The biggest reservation is that there is not going to be enough money to put into the infrastructure to make the system work they way they intend it to," he said. The president of the Vermont Firefighters Association says he doubts whether AT&T will deliver the network it is promising. "I just don't see them getting the coverage that they will get in places like New York City."