The complex processing architecture underlying attentional control requires delineation of the functional role of different control-related brain networks. A key component is the cingulo-opercular (CO) network composed of anterior insula/operculum, dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, and thalamus. Its function has been particularly difficult to characterize due to the network's pervasive activity and frequent co-activation with other control-related networks. We previously suggested this network to underlie intrinsically maintained tonic alertness. Here, we tested this hypothesis by separately manipulating the demand for selective attention and for tonic alertness in a two-factorial, continuous pitch discrimination paradigm. The 2 factors had independent behavioral effects. Functional imaging revealed that activity as well as functional connectivity in the CO network increased when the task required more tonic alertness. Conversely, heightened selective attention to pitch increased activity in the dorsal attention (DAT) network but not in the CO network. Across participants, performance accuracy showed dissociable correlation patterns with activity in the CO, DAT, and fronto-parietal (FP) control networks. These results support tonic alertness as a fundamental function of the CO network. They further the characterization of this function as the effortful process of maintaining cognitive faculties available for current processing requirements.