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New Angle Inlet cell site to provide first responders, residents with better service

A new cell site created specifically to enhance voice and broadband service for public safety personnel in the Northwest Angle went live on Nov. 17.

A monument at Young's Bay of Lake of the Woods commemorates the Northwest Angle's location as the northernmost point in the contiguous U.S. (Photo/ Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald)
A monument at Young's Bay of Lake of the Woods commemorates the Northwest Angle's location as the northernmost point in the contiguous U.S.
Brad Dokken/Grand Forks Herald

A new cell site created specifically to enhance voice and broadband service for public safety personnel in the Northwest Angle went live on Nov. 17.

The site in Angle Inlet, a part of the FirstNet network, powered by AT&T, now can provide service to residents, visitors and public safety personnel in the Northwest Angle from the Canadian border across Lake of the Woods to Zippel Bay, where reception meets with another AT&T site.

“If there was a disaster or some sort of weather event, search and rescue, all those sorts of things can be supported and communicated with the general public and also public safety,” said Paul Weirtz, president of AT&T Minnesota.

FirstNet is a cellular network communications system developed in a private-public partnership between the First Responder Network Authority and AT&T. The network prioritizes first responders and other entities essential to public safety infrastructure. The First Responder Network Authority is an independent authority of the U.S. Department of Commerce, created in 2012 to establish and operate a public safety broadband network. The First Responder Network Authority contracted AT&T to build out the infrastructure used to support the FirstNet network across the United States.

FirstNet cell sites use the Band 14 spectrum and AT&T’s normal commercial spectrum. Band 14 was set aside by the U.S. government to serve as a network for use by first responders. In an emergency, all non-FirstNet subscribers can be cleared from the spectrum, leaving a band just for first responders.

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The new site in Angle Inlet had long been a place of interest for FirstNet from a public safety standpoint, said Andrew Sackreiter, radio access network director. It was determined that increasing service in the Northwest Angle, home to an international border with Canada, a state forest and tribal land, would benefit state and federal agencies operating in the area, like the border patrol and Department of Natural Resources.

Sackreiter had worked with public safety stakeholders to develop a FirstNet plan for the state, and in 2017, former Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton opted the state into the FirstNet network. The goal to complete the FirstNet network in Minnesota is 2023, and Weirtz says AT&T is ahead of schedule.

The cell site was installed on an existing cell tower, which made choosing the location for the cell site easier, said Sackreiter.

“We invested in making sure that structure passed all of the appropriate loading guidelines, which took a little bit of investment on the foundation to make sure it was sufficient for our load,” Sackreiter said.

For cell phone users to benefit from the new Angle Inlet cell site, they must have a cell phone plan with AT&T, FirstNet or Cricket Wireless, AT&T’s prepaid cell phone service.

Now that AT&T and First Responder Network Authority have announced the new cell site is up and running, Weirtz says the next step is for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety to spread the news with first responders and other public safety entities in the area. Then, public safety stakeholders in the area can choose whether to subscribe to the network.

From 2018 to 2020, AT&T spent more than $300 million expanding its network in Minnesota , including FirstNet developments. Weirtz said investments into Minnesota reflect the company’s commitment to the state.

“We have this responsibility to build this (FirstNet) network for the state of Minnesota, and we’re well ahead of schedule, but this isn’t just completing this and then we’re done,” said Weirtz. “We work very closely with first responders and public safety partners in identifying gaps, so it’s not just specific sites that we’re building, but building better coverage in Minnesota.”

Ingrid Harbo joined the Grand Forks Herald in September 2021.

Harbo covers Grand Forks region news, and also writes about business in Grand Forks and the surrounding area.

Readers can reach Harbo at 701-780-1124 or iharbo@gfherald.com. Follow her on Twitter @ingridaharbo.
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