May 16, 2016–FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel today urged the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to promptly stand up a program to award $115 million in 911 and next-generation 911 (NG-911) grants, saying that the money should go to “model jurisdictions,” which she said would “optimize” use of the funds. in a speech this afternoon at the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International’s Public Safety Broadband Summit, Ms. Rosenworcel noted that Congress reserved the $115 million from AWS-3 auction proceeds in the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012. “We need to make it a national priority” to update 911 networks to NG-911, she said. She called “corrosive” the impact of states that divert 911 funds for other purposes. Eight states did that in the most recent reporting period evaluated by the FCC.
“I think the long game deserves attention,” such as congressional action to help spur NG-911 deployment, Ms. Rosenworcel said. “But the here and now matters, too.” So efforts to create rules for the grant program need to be completed, she said, noting that they are way overdue. Regulations for the grants were supposed to be developed within 120 days of enactment of the legislation, she noted. “While these funds are small, I think they can make a big impact if we use them wisely,” she said, adding that they can “demonstrate proof of concept in both urban and rural areas.”
She offered three ideas on a framework for the grant program.
“We actually need a common definition of next-generation 911,” she said. “We need to ensure that when we talk about next-generation 911 in one jurisdiction, it means the same thing in another jurisdiction. And that’s not the case today. So we need to incorporate into this program nationally accredited standards that promote interoperability between call centers.”
Ms. Rosenworcel added that there also is a need to “optimize” the funding and show how public safety answering points (PSAPs) “can embrace economies of scale and still honor the tradition of local control.”
“For example, statewide and regional ESInets can help with shared, core services and dramatically improve efficiency,” she added. Also, in order to obtain funding, “model jurisdictions … should demonstrate they have in place mechanisms to cover future costs, including training,” the Commissioner said.
During a panel discussion earlier today, David Furth, deputy chief of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, outlined agency efforts to improve 911, including the adoption of text-to-911 and indoor 911 location accuracy rules.
It is crucial to move 911 and other key public safety systems “into the 21st century,” Mr. Furth said. ”It’s a hard problem. There are governance issues, there are funding issues.”
On text to 911, about 20% of the U.S. population is now served by PSAPs that support text to 911, he said. “We expect by next year, it will be a significantly higher number,” Mr. Furth added, noting that a number of PSAPs are currently in the process of upgrading their systems to be able to accept texts.
Mr. Furth also noted the FCC’s annual reports on the diversion of 911 funds for other purposes, saying the number has gone down but states still engage in the practice. He noted that in order to get a share of the $115 million in grants, states will have to certify that they are not diverting funds.
Another speaker at the session, Dorothy Spears-Dean, public safety communications coordinator for the Virginia Information Technologies Agency, described efforts in her state to update 911 systems, including the completion of a feasibility study on NG-911 deployment, the completion of a comprehensive 911 plan, the formation of a regional advisory council to provide input on 911 issues, the deployment of text-to-911 services to 24 localities that represent about 20% of the state’s population, and the passage of legislation codifying the definition of an ESInet and of NG-911.
During an earlier session that featured representatives of two First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) early builder projects, speakers outlined their networks and lessons they have learned during deployment.
Michael Rohrbacher, RF/LMR manager for the New Mexico Department of Information Technology, said the state’s non-contiguous network, which has six fixed sites and a cell on wheels (COWs), has been successfully deployed at the International Balloon Fiesta and the New Mexico State Fair.
Officials also have established memoranda of understanding (MoUs) with tribes and federal agencies to initiate demonstrations but have not yet gotten many permanent subscribers from them, he said.
Fred Scalera, chief of the Interoperability Communications Bureau in the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, and New Jersey State Police Communications Bureau Capt. David Brady discussed activities related to that state’s early builder network, which focuses on deployable systems in three portions of the state.
The network has supported a myriad of special and other events so far, including last year’s papal visit, a steeple chase, the Atlantic City Airshow, Atlantic City beach concerts, the Miss America Pageant, a Federal Emergency Management Agency exercise, an urban search and rescue drill, and a joint terrorism task force drill. Mr. Brady stressed that officials have modified their operational protocols to take advantage of lessons learned during deployments.
During another session, Matt Gerst, director-regulatory affairs for CTIA, updated the attendees on efforts to implement the FCC’s 911 indoor location accuracy rules. He noted the establishment of a test bed to test 911 indoor location accuracy technologies. “We’ve already begun dry run testing” in the two markets where the test bed will operate, Atlanta and San Francisco, he said.
Stage 1 testing will be for carriers’ existing technologies, and it will be open to nationwide and non-nationwide providers. Testing will begin this quarter and hopefully will be completed in the third quarter. Stage 2 testing will host vendors of new technologies, with testing hopefully to begin in the fourth quarter, Mr. Gerst said. He said the test bed could be opened up again if it would help test other new technologies. He also said organizers are looking for 60 building sites in each region for testing.Mr. Gerst also said that CTIA is evaluating proposals to run the National Emergency Address Database (NEAD).
Also this year, there will be work to develop the NEAD privacy and security plan mandated by the FCC. It is due in February 2017. Efforts will also be underway on education and outreach, and standards work is continuing, he said. He stressed the value for building owners to be included in the NEAD. – Paul Kirby, email@example.com