FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler today reiterated his call for congressional action to help facilitate the deployment of next-generation 911 (NG-911) services. “Simply put, the communications technology behind the 911 system is dangerously out of date,” Mr. Wheeler said in an op-ed column in the “New York Times.” “Currently, the centers handle about 240 million calls a year, an increasing number of them from cellphones. But many local 911 call centers can’t receive a text, photo or video from a person in need — capabilities that are considered commonplace for any American with a smartphone. Worse, while our nation makes the transition to broadband networks, too many of our 911 call centers rely on decades-old telephone technology — technology that is no longer being supported by commercial vendors and prone to failure. The market forces driving the broadband revolution will soon have the nation’s 911 system resting on a foundation of sand.”
“We already see this brighter 911 future in pockets across the country. Some state and local 911 decision makers have made important strides toward migrating their call centers to NG911, which has improved functionality and resiliency,” the Chairman added. “But too many — a large majority — have not. To date, the transition to NG911 has been slow and ragged, increasing overall cost and risk of failure, while leaving us well short of our goals of improving emergency response and saving lives. In addition, while some federal money has been set aside for studies and NG911 transition challenges, it’s a drop in the bucket.”
Mr. Wheeler stressed that “our laws need to reflect the changing realities on the ground. We must make the benefits of NG911 available to all Americans, not just those fortunate enough to live in a few well-resourced communities. Only Congress can provide what state and local authorities require to deliver effective 911 services to all their citizens. This includes one-time funding assistance to 911 jurisdictions to get them through the NG911 transition. Done right, smart federal investment will actually lower costs by shortening the transition period and enabling 911 authorities to retire costly legacy facilities more quickly.”
Mr. Wheeler’s column drew praise from NG-911 advocates.
“Federal funding is critical to accelerate the transition to Next Generation 9-1-1. It must provide the right incentives to implement and sustain secure, efficient, competitive, non-proprietary solutions while preserving local autonomy,” the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International said in a news release. “Additionally, the transition must be accomplished in a manner that fully complements the implementation of the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) nationwide public safety broadband network, which will deliver similar technological advances into the hands of first responders. The 9-1-1 centers of the future will bring together the two halves of emergency response, serving as a nerve center for the public with Next Generation 9-1-1 as well as first responders through FirstNet.”
“APCO welcomes Chairman Wheeler’s comments in calling attention to the funding needs of 9-1-1 centers,” said APCO President Brent Lee. He added that “quick and comprehensive Congressional action is necessary to finally ensure that this most fundamental portion of the nation’s emergency response infrastructure is poised to keep our citizens and country as safe as possible.”
The National Emergency Number Association said it “joins FCC Chairman Wheeler’s call for the evolution of our nation’s 9-1-1 system. Every day, we see technology’s possibilities realized in our smartphones, connected vehicles, smart homes, and so much more. Public expectation demands that consumers be able to communicate with response agencies the same way they communicate with each other – utilizing the latest IP-based devices that can push and pull information seamlessly. The time has come to make the financial investment necessary to make Next Generation 9-1-1 a reality.”
Patrick Halley, executive director of the NG9-1-1 Institute, said, “The NG9-1-1 Institute applauds Chairman Wheeler’s recognition of the need for additional funding to enable the transition to fully IP-based next generation 9-1-1 systems. One of the most important infrastructure investments we can make as a nation is in our 9-1-1 system – a system relied upon nearly 250 million times every year. As technology advances, so too must our emergency communications networks, and sufficient funding is a critical element of that evolution.” – Paul Kirby, firstname.lastname@example.org