Public Safety, Industry Entities Weigh in on NG-911 Grant Program

Public safety and industry entities have weighed in on proposed regulations for a next-generation 911 (NG-911) grant program, including on who should be eligible for funding, whether tribes should be able to directly submit applications, and the formula for distributing grants. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released a notice of proposed rulemaking in September that proposed awarding NG-911 grants directly to tribal organizations, rather than to them only through states (TR Daily, Sept. 21).

The NPRM proposed 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 in September 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 “seeks comment on an approach that envisions apportioning the available grant funds across all of the states and tribal organizations, to serve 911, Enhanced 911 (E911), and NG911 purposes. However, given the total amount available for the grant program, this approach would allow for only marginal enhancements in any given area,” the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International argued in its comments in docket 170420407-7407-01.  “Accordingly, the best way to use these grants is to create model deployments that demonstrate proofs of concept for fully-deployed and interoperable NG911 services in urban, suburban, and rural areas. By focusing on model NG911 deployments for a few areas, the grant program can better serve the entire country by producing blueprints for efficiently modernizing 911 systems nationwide. This should lower costs and speed implementations for systems that follow.”

APCO also said that “interoperability should be the top priority for the grant program. The NPRM’s proposal to require grant recipients to comply with current NG911 standards as listed in the Department of Homeland Security’s SAFECOM Guidance is not the best approach. The standards listed in the SAFECOM Guidance are very broad, in some cases incomplete, and unlikely to ensure interoperability, at least without costly after-the-fact integrations. Conversely, using widely deployed commercial standards will facilitate interoperability and help to expand the market so that public safety benefits from the competition and ongoing innovation in the commercial market. Thus, the Office [National 911 Program] should encourage grant applications be based upon use of widely deployed commercial standards that achieve the interoperability, innovation, and cost efficiencies that would be of most benefit to PSAPs.”

APCO also proposed that the following definition be adopted: “Interoperable means PSAPs can seamlessly (1) receive emergency calls and related data from origination networks, (2) share emergency calls and related data among ESInets, including across state boundaries, and (3) hand off emergency calls and related data with each other.”

APCO also said it “agrees with the proposal that, consistent with the NG911 Advancement Act, states or other taxing jurisdictions that have diverted fees collected for 911 services during the 180 days immediately preceding the initial application would be ineligible and that a state or jurisdiction that diverts fees during the term of the grant must repay all grant funds awarded. The prospect of grant funds is an important tool for preventing 911 fee diversion. However, as the Federal Communications Commission’s annual reports on fee diversion have demonstrated, there may be disagreement about what qualifies as fee diversion. For example, in the most recent fee diversion report, the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau and four reporting states disagreed about whether 911 fee diversion had taken place due to different interpretations of state laws and what it means to be 911-related. The 911 Office should create a clear definition of fee diversion for the purposes of the grant program and communicate its expectations to potential applicants.”

The National Association of State 911 Administrators said it “agrees with the Agencies’ proposal to allow Tribal entities to apply independently or in coordination with the State 911 Coordinator. However, we recommend that Tribes applying independently be required to inform the State 911 Coordinator of their application. This additional provision would avoid the potential for duplication and enable the State 911 coordinator (particularly those with a permanent presence within the state governmental structure) to be aware of NG911 technology deployments throughout the state.”

NASNA also said that “there is practical value to states in knowing exactly how much funding they can apply for. NASNA supports a two-step application process.”

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission weighed in on the proposal to permit tribes to apply directly for grants. “While this is an honorable goal, we caution that there is a danger in allowing Tribal Organizations to apply directly for grant funding and allowing States to apply for funds on behalf of Tribal Organizations within their borders,” the commission said. “The efforts of both entities, if not closely coordinated, could be at odds with or redundant with each other, leading to waste and duplication of effort. A better solution would be require Tribal Organizations to decide whether they wish to apply on their own or be included in a State’s application, rather than allow both. If it is the latter, States should have to include certifications from their Tribal Organizations confirming that they were included in the coordination process, in order to ensure that the Agencies’ goal has been met.” The commission added that tribes that apply for grants directly should be subject to the same requirements as states.

The PUC also proposed “that a combination of population, land area, and tourism rates is a much more appropriate approach to funding distribution. Because of the additional challenges that terrain can add to the implementation of NG9-1-1, we also recommend that the Agencies consider ways to provide additional assistance to mountainous states. Installing geographically diverse fiber routes through a mountain range is significantly more expensive than doing so over flat plains.”

The Texas Commission on State Emergency Communications said it supports the proposed revisions to the 911 grant program regulations and the proposed two-step process for applying for grants.  But it sought “confirmation and/or clarification of the process.”

“We would like to encourage inter-agency resource sharing as a component of the NOFO [notice of funding opportunity],” said the Missouri Department of Public Safety. “Many state DOT[s] have dark fiber resources that are not available to outside users, non-DOT users. As part of this initiative it would be great if USDOT would encourage the use of [state] dark fiber access for that could lead to significant improvements in bandwidth and circuit diversity. For 911-PSAPs that only have basic 911 infrastructure and the legacy enhancements from the 2009 E-911 grant, sustainment and maintenance of those systems should be considered as an eligible cost. Consulting services should be considered as an eligible cost for NG911. Those smaller agencies that lack the expertise for transition and development could benefit. We concur with the current formula, population and public road mileage, otherwise rural areas will continue to be underserved.” It also favored retained the single application structure and said that priority should be given to communities that don’t have basic 911.

The Chicago Office of Emergency Management & Communications said that “cities with large 9-1-1 systems should be able to apply for funding due to both the expansive scope of their operations as well as their specialized requirements related to: training a large workforce, strengthening cyber security in the face of an increased risk profile, and handling a comparatively much larger call volume.” The city added that “call volume should be taken into account when considering distribution of funds. Population alone does not paint the entire picture of a PSAPs call traffic since it does not account for the added calls received by jurisdictions with a significant number of commuters into its central business district, as well as a significant number of tourists. For example, the City of Chicago has a population of approximately 2.7 million people; however, an additional 40 million people visit Chicago annually, which drives call volume up significantly.”

The District of Columbia Office of Unified Communications said the wording of the rules should be modified so early NG-911 deployers are eligible for funding. In addition to states and tribes, the district should also be eligible for funds, it added. When deciding the amount of a grant, officials should consider call volume.

The National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC) submitted “observations and proposed changes to include GIS data development and maintenance as eligible activities for grant funding, and to explicitly identify standards developed and in development by the National Emergency Number Association for design and implementation of the IP-based network infrastructure to implement NG9-1-1.”

“The NPRM appropriately proposes to provide financial support for investment in ‘the forward-looking technology of NG911,’” Motorola Solutions, Inc., said. “States and localities have largely invested in deploying both basic and E9-1-1 services, and providing grant funds for NG9-1-1 enabling technologies would accelerate the NG9-1-1 network transition. Of course, certain non-IP based products and services support NG9-1-1 enabling functions. And as industry continues to develop new and innovative solutions to meet 9-1-1 service demands, it is imperative that the 9-1-1 Grant Program rules remain flexible, as contemplated in the NG9-1-1 Advancement Act, to support future innovation in 9-1-1 products and services.”

“To avoid confusion and inadvertent delays in awarding funds, Motorola Solutions recommends the agencies maintain their existing one-step application process rather than implement a new two-step approach,” Motorola Solutions added. “Although the agencies are right to look for opportunities to expedite the grant process, the proposed two-step application approach would likely have the opposite effect. Under the two-step proposal, eligible 9-1-1 authorities would complete two separate applications — one submitting required certifications and a second with a complete application packet and project budget. Authorities interested in applying for additional funds in the event other applicants fail to meet their certification requirements would also be required to submit a supplemental project proposal in addition to their initial application packet and project budget. Requiring 9-1-1 authorities — many of which operate under constrained budgets with busy dockets and limited personnel — to manage multiple deadlines with varying requirements could increase the burden on applicants, create confusion, and result in incomplete submissions. The best way to expedite the application, review, and award process is to keep it simple.” —Paul Kirby,

Courtesy TRDaily