The FCC’s Task Force on Optimal PSAP Architecture (TFOPA) approved a report from its resource allocation working group on September 29 but not before several industry representatives raised objections to a proposal to impose a “network connection” surcharge based on upstream bandwidth levels that would be assessed on any provider of Internet access to retail customers. The industry representatives suggested that the funding model, one of five examined by the working group, would thwart innovation and unfairly impact subscribers of broadband services even though they would not have greater access to next-generation 911 (NG-911) services.
The report from the TFOPA’s working group 3 recommended the funding regime be studied in a follow-on Joint Local State Government Advisory Committee (LSAG), which would focus exclusively on NG-911 issues. The panel would also further study prepaid wireless surcharge issues, a topic on which the working group was not able to reach a consensus, as well as on enhancing data quality and undertaking outreach and education.
“We believe this funding method is sustainable as well as technologically and competitively neutral,” the report said of the network connection fee. “It could be assessed on network providers that provide internet access, based on upstream bandwidth, and may be assessed on a smaller number of such carriers or network providers. The details of the funding mechanism are critical, and several adjustments are needed to make this approach equitable and legally sustainable. We recommend that further detailed study of this mechanism, and its necessary adjustments and assumptions, be carried out by a new joint state-local-federal advisory committee.”
Anthony Montani, director-network engineering and operations for Verizon Communications, Inc., said that consumer broadband speeds are constantly changing and suggested that a network connection fee would be unfair to them and stifle investment.
Jeanna Green, regulatory and voice services telecom design engineer for Sprint Corp., said there is a need to explore a funding option that is “equitable to everybody.”
Sean Petty, who represents the Industry Council for Emergency Response Technologies (iCERT) on the TFOPA, also suggested that a network connection fee would not result in broadband customers paying “an equitable share of 911 costs.”
Bill Haas, senior corporate counsel for T-Mobile US, Inc., who has participated in working group 3 even though T-Mobile is not officially represented on the TFOPA, said the industry should have a vote on the proposed LSAG, noting that it would further consider a network connection fee and funding issues related to pre-paid services.
David Simpson, chief of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, suggested that task force members propose another funding option connected to broadband service. “It would be great to get another broadband alternative,” he said.
Phil Jones, chair of working group 3 and a member of the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, said more discussion on the network connection fee is needed. “We’re not just wedded to the network connection fee,” he said. “We think it deserves more consideration.”
Steve Souder, the TFOPA’s chair and director of the Fairfax County, Va., Department of Public Safety Communications, said he wants “as much input as we can get.”
As for securing funding from prepaid wireless services, the report noted that some states have not adopted legislation to address the issue.
“Addressing prepaid wireless plans is a crucial part of assuring sustainable and technologically/competitively neutral 911 funding,” the report said. “37 States have resolved the need to assess 911 on such plans after significant legislative efforts and/or litigation. However, the remaining states still need to resolve these issues. Working Group 3 encourages non-conforming states to resolve this ‘funding gap’ as quickly as possible through state legislation.”
The working group also analyzed funding the transition to NG-911 through state universal service fee assessments, but it “concluded that this is not a viable option because of the current bifurcation in how existing State universal service funds operate, and the fact that most state universal service and 911 programs are managed separately.”
Also considered was using state sales and use taxes to fund NG-911, but that option was deemed problematic because “such taxes could not be subject to the Federal proscription against diversion of 911 fees,” the report said.
Another proposal would incorporate 911 funding into state insurance fees, but the working group said it “did not give serious consideration to this approach because of concerns about feasibility and the gulf between jurisdictions with respect to 911, public safety, and insurance.”
The working group’s recommendations also stressed the importance of (1) statewide planning and coordination, (2) enhanced data quality and reporting, (3) continued “cooperative federalism,” and (4) state/regional control of PSAPs and the NG-911 transition.
Regarding enhanced data quality and reporting, the report said, “The quality and accuracy of 911 data at all levels of government can be improved. Better and complete data on all aspects of 911 funding will facilitate federal and state efforts to set appropriate and sustainable levels of funding for this critical public service. Currently, the accuracy and quality of data submitted to the FCC for incorporation into the agency’s annual report to Congress, required by the Net 911 Act, is deficient. State and regional 911 authorities must work with PSAPs to improve the accuracy of the data submitted to the FCC. Moreover, we specifically recommend that (i) a third party auditor review the data submitted to the FCC before its Net 911 Report is submitted to Congress, and (ii) third party auditing should be considered by each State as new contributor technologies/services/entities are identified, e.g., retailers for point of sale collection of 911 fees for pre-paid wireless plans and IP-enabled devices that use 911 services. Such audits should consider as a foundational matter the need to develop a consensus around key terms used in such an audit.”
The report bemoaned the practice of states diverting 911 surcharges for non-public safety purposes, noting that it has made it more difficult to deploy NG-911 services. “In short, the nation’s system of 911 fee collection and expenditures is at risk,” it warned. “In many parts of the country, the trend lines are not encouraging. In fact, they have gotten worse over the past few budget cycles in many jurisdictions.”
The report said the FCC should work with Congress “to discourage the diversion of 9-1-1 fees and provide FCC auditing authority of 9-1-1 fees.” The report also discussed possible federal funding sources and urged the Commission to “work with other federal agencies and Congress that provide funding for public safety grants to states and local governments under appropriate conditions.”
Last month, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said that he plans to ask Congress to a take a number of steps to help facilitate the deployment of NG-911 services, including authorizing a national maps database, tasking the FCC with helping states audit 911 fund spending, and authorizing additional grants (TRDaily, Aug. 19).
The working group 3 report also emphasized the need for a well-planned transition to NG-911 – and possibly a goal for when all states should be done with the transition.
“While a sound transition plan to NG9-1-1 does in fact require a methodical migration strategy, State and federal policy officials can play a critical role with expediting these plans by encouraging and facilitating a sound and methodical migration strategy,” the report said. “In this report, Working Group 3 sets forth both the overall policy principles and well as principles for more effective state and local coordination on such strategies. In addition, we suggest that Congress may wish to consider providing certain sources of federal funding to accelerate such as a transition. While the Working Group has not reached consensus, we do believe that the policymakers at all levels need to engage seriously in a targeted discussion about a date by which nationwide adoption of NG911 will be achieved.
“More specifically, although we realize that it is not legally enforceable, we recommend to the state and local governments that they reach a consensus soon on a targeted date, for example 2024, by which national deployment of NG911 would be completed,” the report added. “Such an objective would assume some sort of targeted federal grant program, with conditions, cited above, reducing or eliminating the number of states that divert 911 fees for other purposes, and other recommendations in this report. In short, such a policy would target not only a date as a national objective, but would be a collaborative and coordinated effort from the ground up with local and state governments.”
At its next meeting on Nov. 6, the TFOPA plans to vote on the reports from working groups 1 (cybersecurity) and 2 (architecture). After that, the panel will consolidate the three reports into one report for the FCC.
At the September 29’s meeting, the task force heard updates on the reports of working groups 1 and 2. For example, Jay English the working group 1 chair and director-comm center and 911 services for the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International, said the working group plans to recommend the development of 911/PSAP-specific best practices, and a cyber checklist and road map for implementing it. He also noted that it will propose the establishment of the Emergency Communications Cybersecurity Center. – Paul Kirby, firstname.lastname@example.org