NTIA, NHTSA Propose Awarding NG-911 Grants Directly to Tribes

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released a notice of proposed rulemaking today that proposes awarding next-generation 911 grants directly to tribal organizations, rather than to them only through states.

The NPRM proposes modifications to the E-911 Grant Program, which was established pursuant to the ENHANCE 911 Act of 2004, which allocated $43.5 million from the proceeds of the FCC’s 700 megahertz band auction.

The modifications of the regulations proposed today were required by Congress in the NG911 Advancement Act of 2012, which was part of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, which reserved $115 million for NG-911 grants from the FCC’s AWS-3 auction. Up to $110 million in actual grants will be awarded.

The NPRM proposes to change the name of the program from the E-911 Grant Program to the 911 Grant Program. Comments on the NPRM are due Nov. 6 in docket 170420407-7407-01. “Today’s notice is an important step for the 911 Grant Program that will modernize antiquated 911 services across the country,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement. “Next Generation 911 will save lives by being faster and more reliable, and by better connecting first responders to key health and government services in the event of an emergency.”

The NPRM notes that “[t]he E–911 Grant Program regulations only permit States to apply for grant funds on behalf of all local governments, Tribal Organizations, and PSAPs [public safety answering points] located within their jurisdiction. States were required to coordinate their applications with these entities. This approach streamlined the prior grant process and minimized administrative costs of the program, while at the same time, providing safeguards to ensure participation by local governments, Tribal Organizations, and PSAPs. While the Agencies recognize the importance of coordination between States and Tribal Organizations, directing States to coordinate with Tribal Organizations did not result in adequate funding to improve PSAPs serving tribal areas. The fact that tribes are sovereign nations and that some tribal areas cross State lines further complicated this issue.

“The Agencies seek to provide equitable funding in a practical manner to ensure the most efficient use of funds to produce maximum benefit in implementing NG911 services,” the NPRM added. “In this NPRM, the Agencies propose to retain the ability of States to apply for funding on behalf of all entities within their jurisdiction, but also to permit Tribal Organizations to apply directly for 911 grants under certain circumstances. The Agencies seek comment on this proposal as well as on any challenges that Tribal Organizations may face under this grant program.

“Specifically, the Agencies ask commenters to address the following questions: i. If the 911 Grant Program were open to Tribal Organizations directly, would tribal PSAPs be able to meet the application requirements provided in proposed 47 CFR 400.4, including statutory requirements such as the matching requirement and non-diversion certifications? What would be the challenges with providing the necessary certifications, if any? ii. A Tribal Organization applying for a 911 Program Grant must identify the designated State 911 Coordinator(s) and provide certifications that the Tribal Organization has not diverted designated 911 charges. What would be the challenges associated with providing this information, if any? iii. Do the tribal PSAPs collect 911 surcharge fees and/or receive State-provided 911 surcharge funds? If so, are Tribal Organizations able to certify that tribal sub-entities are not diverting 911 surcharge fees? iv. What other tribal PSAP issues or challenges should NHTSA and NTIA consider when determining how to involve tribal entities in this grant program?”

The agencies “propose to retain the State 911 Plan requirements with minor modifications” and the requirement that states designate a 911 coordinator.

They also are seeking “comment on whether to retain the single application structure that requires an applicant to provide a supplemental budget submission in addition to the project budget in the event that additional funds become available for any reason. Alternatively, the Agencies seek comment on whether a two-step application process should be used. As an example of a possible two-step application process, the Agencies would publish a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for the 911 Grant Program providing additional details and deadlines for the application process. As a first step, interested State and Tribal Organization applicants would submit the required certifications set forth at Appendix A or B, respectively. Then, the Agencies would provide preliminary funding allocations for each of the States or Tribal Organizations that meets the certification requirements. As a second step, those States or Tribal Organizations would then submit a complete application packet, including a project budget based on the preliminary funding level. Because of the possibility that additional funds may become available if certain states are unable to meet the certification requirements, these States or Tribal Organizations could also include a supplemental project budget as part of their complete application packet.”

NTIA and NHTSA also want comments on whether they should change the formula for distributing grant funds.

“The E–911 Grant Program distributed grant funds to eligible States using a formula based on State population and public road mileage. The Agencies propose to apply the same formula for distribution of grant funds to States and Territories in the new round of funding under the 911 Grant Program. As in the E–911 Grant Program, the formula will provide for a minimum grant amount of $500,000 for States and $250,000 for Territories. In the E–911 Grant Program, population and road miles were used as the basis for the formula because 911 services are used by people, and because the ability to make any phone calls (therefore to make 911 calls) in 2009 was dependent upon the presence of copper land lines and/or cell towers,” the NPRM says. “Road miles were used as a surrogate for cell tower coverage in the 2009 regulation because at that time, cell towers were the primary means of transmitting 911 calls to PSAPs, and were likely to be built along roadways — especially in rural areas. Ultimately, though, the combination of population and road miles favored urban areas over rural and remote areas.”

The NPRM adds that “given the advances in technology and the unique challenges faced by rural and remote PSAPs, the Agencies are seeking comment on whether other factors should be considered as part of the formula for distribution of grant funds or whether the current formula is the best framework to distribute the up to $110 million available in new funding for the program.” For example, the NPRM asks if “the factor of land area, as determined by the Census Bureau, improve the accounting for rural and remote areas?”

It also says that “[t]o accommodate grant awards to Tribal Organizations, the proposal would authorize the Agencies to set aside 2 percent of available grant funds for distribution to Tribal Organizations with maximum awards of no more than $250,000. The Agencies propose to allocate funding based on a formula as follows: (1) 50 percent in the ratio to which the population of the Tribal Organization bears to the total population of all Tribal Organizations, as determined by the most recent population data on American Indian/Alaska Native Reservation of Statistical Area, and (2) 50 percent in the ratio which the public road mileage in each Tribal Organization bears to the total public road mileage in tribal areas, using the most recent national tribal transportation facility inventory data. The Agencies seek comment on this proposal for distribution to Tribal Organizations.”

The NPRM seeks comment on whether the agencies should limit funds for training PSAP employees to minimum training guidelines developed as part of a multistakeholder effort overseen by the National 911 Program, and it proposes to continue to allow grant recipients to use up to 10% to cover administrative costs of participating in the program, and to use a portion of that 10% to employ a NG-911 readiness scorecard developed by the FCC’s Task Force on Optimal PSAP Architecture (TFOPA).

The NPRM also notes that the NG911 Advancement Act specifies that grant funds are designed to help PSAPs deploy NG-911 technology. As a result, it says, “grant funds can be used only to cover the cost of operating the NG911 system until such time as the current legacy system is shut down and the system is fully operational using only NG911 technology.”

The law “also increases the maximum Federal share of the cost of a project eligible for a grant from 50 percent to 60 percent,” the agencies note. “States or other taxing jurisdictions that have diverted fees collected for 911 services remain ineligible for grants under the program and a State or jurisdiction that diverts fees during the term of the grant must repay all grant funds awarded. The NG911 Advancement Act further clarifies that prohibited diversion of 911 fees includes elimination of fees as well as redesignation of fees for purposes other than implementation or operation of 911 services, E–911 services, or NG911 services during the term of the grant.”

The document also notes that the funds for the grants will be available for obligation until Sept. 30, 2022, and that the funds “will be cancelled and returned to the Treasury no later than September 30, 2027.” —Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

Courtesy TRDaily