US operator AT&T won a contract to build and manage a nationwide wireless broadband network worth a total of $46.5 billion, designed to modernise the country’s emergency communications infrastructure.

The US Department of Commerce and the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) announced the partnership with AT&T in a statement, which explained the network would be the first of its kind “dedicated to America’s first responders”.

FirstNet, an independent arm of the Department of Commerce, struck a 25 year agreement with the operator, and will provide it with 20MHz of spectrum as well as make payments of $6.5 billion over the next five years to support the build out.

The funding comes from previous spectrum auctions.

AT&T also committed to an investment worth $40 billion over the 25 years to build, operate and maintain the network, “with a focus on ensuring robust coverage for public safety”.

The effort was first set up by a federal commission following communications failures during the 9/11 attacks in 2001, when first responders were unable to communicate effectively because the country’s emergency services used different networks and technologies.

FirstNet said the ability to communicate seamlessly “is critical” for law enforcement, particularly in cases of large events or responding to emergencies and disasters.

In addition to the network build out, which will cover all 50 states and rural communities, the public-private partnership between AT&T and FirstNet will create more than 10,000 jobs.

AT&T said the network will also be able to modernise first responders’ communication with specialised features not available to them on today’s wireless networks.

“This is an unprecedented public-private investment in infrastructure that makes America a leader and public safety a national priority,” commented AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson.

According to Reuters, AT&T beat off competition from a consortium consisting of Rivada Networks, Ericsson, Nokia and Intel, among others, to win the contract.