Wheeler Says He Will Ask Congress to Help Spur NG-9-1-1 Deployment

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced that he plans to ask Congress to a take a number of steps to help facilitate the deployment of next-generation 911 (NG-911) services, including authorizing a national maps database, tasking the FCC with helping states audit 911 fund spending, and authorizing additional grants.

“While the Congress has enacted important 911 legislation over the last 20 years, the legislative framework largely adopted in 1999 has been outstripped by changes in technology, changes in the marketplace, and changes in consumer behavior,” Mr. Wheeler said in a luncheon speech at the APCO 2015 show. “To effectively implement NG-911, we need to amend our laws in ways that reflect the changing realities on the ground. Over the coming months, I want to work with Congress to do just that.”

Mr. Wheeler said that “state and local authorities need the best possible tools to do the job.  We at the Commission will do our part, but an effective and efficient NG-911 can only become a reality if our state and local partners are empowered to act on the new vision.

“For example, the maps our PSAPs use to identify where callers are calling from should not end at the county or state line. … Congress could authorize establishment of a national maps database to ensure that every PSAP has access to the latest and most accurate maps and uses them. As maps increasingly include the third dimension, approaching this issue in a consistent, effective and efficient manner will be money well spent.”

Mr. Wheeler also noted that each year, the FCC prepares a report on the diversion of 911 funds by states for other purposes, saying, “None of us should find that acceptable.”

“Shining a spotlight on the problem is a start, but we need to be able to do more,” he said. “For example, Congress could direct the FCC to assist states in developing effective audit tools to ensure appropriate collection and expenditure of 911 funds and prevent diversion of funds to other purposes.”

“More broadly, additional federal grants to states could help pay for the capital costs for implementing NG-911,” he said, noting that Congress reserved $115 million in grants from auction proceeds in the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012.

“That’s a good start, but more can be done,” the Chairman added. “Congress should authorize matching funds to help PSAPs migrate to efficient NG-911 ESI-Nets and shared platforms. It could condition existing and future grants on the use of best practice architectures identified by our Task Force [on Optimal PSAP Architecture] recommendation for optimal NG-911 implementation.”

Mr. Wheeler also stressed the importance of public safety answering points addressing cybersecurity issues.

“The simple truth is that PSAPs – particularly smaller PSAPs – are not well resourced to address this fight and in many cases cannot afford to face it alone,” he said. “One way to help PSAPs protect themselves against cyberattack would be for Congress to incent the development and use of shared Security Operations Centers supporting multiple PSAPs.”

Cyber training for public safety personnel is also crucial, Mr. Wheeler said.

Mr. Wheeler cited a number of actions the FCC has taken since last year on 911 and NG-911 issues, including efforts to enhance 911 communications continuity and reliability, bolster location accuracy, and improve governance.

“To date, the transition to NG-911 has been too slow and too ragged and as a result, has been increasing the overall cost and risk while leaving us well short of our goals of improving emergency response and saving lives,” he said. “There are understandable reasons why NG-911 has lagged. I understand, for example, how state and local authorities must maintain legacy communications capabilities during a transitional period. Maintaining two infrastructures increases cost and complexity at a time public safety resources are already stretched razor thin. But it’s not a unique experience; throughout our communications infrastructure, this is being done – and done successfully.

“Let me be clear:  just because the slow implementation of NG-911 is understandable does not make it excusable,” Mr. Wheeler added. “Today’s fractured implementation of 911 and NG-911 capabilities leaves Americans confused and at greater risk. Lives are at stake. We have to do better.”

TRDaily asked Mr. Wheeler after his speech how difficult it will be to get more NG-911 grant funds from Congress.

He replied that he has “already begun to surface the need to do something like this with Congress. As you know, I think every time I’ve been before the House, I have raised this as an issue that needs to be addressed … at least in the last two or three appearances. And I’m hopeful that the 911 Caucus and others will be able to see this as a target that they can go after.”

The National Emergency Number Association said that it “is pleased that Chairman Wheeler has announced an aggressive agenda to drive NG9-1-1 deployment, including a strong call for congressional action aimed at speeding the transition. During the 2012 NG9-1-1 Legal Framework proceeding, NENA expressed our own support for congressional actions similar to those that Chairman Wheeler endorsed today. We continue to believe that federal bridge funding, through increased grants and matching funds, can significantly speed up the deployment of NG9-1-1 as we maintain legacy E9-1-1 systems during the transition.

“Moreover, we agree with the Chairman that providing states with stronger tools to ensure the legitimate and transparent use of 9-1-1 fees could increase both the quality of 9-1-1 service at the local level and the willingness of Congress to make investments in 9-1-1 from the federal level,” NENA added. “Finally, we strongly support the Chairman’s call-to-action with respect to PSAP cybersecurity and workforce development. Going forward, each of these initiatives will be critical to the success of the broader 9-1-1 enterprise. As always, NENA stands ready to work closely with the Commission to achieve this vision as rapidly as possible.”

“We appreciate Chairman Wheeler’s interest in making sure that PSAPs across the country have the tools they need, including sufficient funding resources, to implement Next Generation 911 technologies and related workforce training to address new cybersecurity threats,” said Derek Poarch, executive director of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International. “We look forward to working with the FCC, including through our active participation in the Task Force on Optimal PSAP Architecture, and CSRIC V, to identify the best path forward to achieve these important goals.”

“I look forward to working with Congress and the Commission towards enacting some of Chairman Wheeler’s recommendations, such as creating a national maps database for use by public safety answering points (PSAPs), conditioning existing and future grants on the use of best practice architectures identified by the FCC’s Optimal PSAP Architecture Task Force, and incentivizing the development of shared services for use by multiple PSAPs,” said Steve Berry, president and chief executive officer of the Competitive Carriers Association. – Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com