A House member and others who spoke at a luncheon today emphasized the importance of ensuring adequate funding for next-generation 911 (NG-911) deployment, including by preventing the diversion of 911 fees by states for other purposes. During the event, which was organized by the NG911 Institute, Rep. Susan Brooks (R., Ind.), whom House communications and technology subcommittee chairman Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.) has asked to take the lead on NG-911 and First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) issues, said that adequate funding is a key issue that the panel will focus on.
Rep. Blackburn “wants to be very focused on next-generation 911 and issues like FirstNet,” Rep. Brooks said. “Next-gen 911 needs to be ready.” Rep. Brooks also stressed that any legislation or policies must not thwart innovation. Policy-makers should ensure that any regulations “are more like guard rails, not speed bumps,” she said.
The lawmaker also emphasized the importance of continuing to focus on expanding broadband deployment, saying that one in six Indiana residents lives in an area with no broadband access.
“Identifying those truly unserved areas is a top priority as we explore broadband deployment,” she said. “Adequate data collection and reliable up-to-date mapping of that broadband coverage is key to ensuring we fulfill those under and unserved areas.”
Rep. Brooks also noted that her state legislature approved a bill to facilitate the deployment of small cells that the wireless industry says will be needed for 5G services. “Let me tell you, it wasn’t without controversy,” she said.
At today’s event, other speakers also touched on the intersection of NG-911, the Internet of things, and smart cities.
For example, they noted that NG-911 was just one example of a public safety benefit that can be seen from the Internet of things and in smart cities, with others coming in sectors such as health care, transportation, and utilities.
Among the challenges to ensuring that NG-911 becomes a reality are “funding, governance, and technical issues,” said Matt Gerst, director-regulatory affairs for CTIA. He praised Indiana for its law to facilitate the siting of small cells.
“Public safety’s been the poor stepchild throughout history,” said Ray Lehr, a fellow at The Performance Institute who is a consultant and a former public safety official in Maryland.
Karima Holmes, director of the D.C. Office of United Communications, added, “911 is definitely the stepchild of public safety.”
Jeff Brueggeman, vice president-public policy and deputy chief legal officer for AT&T, Inc., said public safety entities “should be at the table” as smart cities are planned.
Sokwoo Rhee, associate director-cyber-physical systems at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, said cybersecurity is a key issue for smart cities that most cities don’t seem to have a plan for addressing. He noted that NIST has a large-scale initiative, the Global City Teams Challenge, to focus on that matter.
An audience member, Maryland State Sen. Cheryl Kagan (D.), expressed frustration at the difficulty of raising 911 fees in her state to fund NG-911. “We can’t move forward to next-gen unless the funding is here,” she said. “We’re moving forward at a glacial pace.”
She also complained that only one county in the state has text-to-911. Ms. Holmes said her city does not divert any 911 fees for other purposes, but she said that the fees make up only 30% of her budget so the city had to use capital funding to start NG-911 planning. She also noted that while some federal NG-911 grants are expected to be available soon, “it’s not going to be enough.”
More federal funding is necessary “just to kick-start the development of this infrastructure,” she added.
“We know we need sustainable funding to make that happen,” said Mr. Gerst. He said that wireless carriers collect about $2.5 billion a year from consumers in 911 fees. “We want to make sure that that money is being spent on 911 services,” he said. “Consumers are already paying a lot to support the 911 system today.”- Paul Kirby, email@example.com