NTIA, NHTSA Release NG-911 Grant Rules

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration today released rules to award up to $110 million in next-generation 911 (NG-911) grants.

A notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) released last year 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 (TR Daily, Sept. 21). The program will now be called the 911 Grant Program.

The proposed modifications 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.

“Today’s announcement means we are a step closer to bringing the benefits of the latest technology to 911 call centers around the country,” said Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. “In an emergency, the public safety community must have every tool at its disposal to keep Americans safe.”

“In emergencies, quick access to the right resources can save lives,” said Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao. “The 911 Grant Program will make it possible for states and local jurisdictions to improve their emergency technology while providing the support first responders need to do their jobs.”

In the NPRM, NTIA and NHTSA had proposed allowing tribes to apply directly for grant funding rather than going through states. In the rules released today, the agencies said that their procedures will ensure that tribes are not able to get funding both directly and through states, including by requiring states to coordinate with local governments, tribes, and public safety answering points (PSAPs) when applying for funds.

The agencies also declined a request to allow cities with large 911 systems to directly apply for funds, saying that they “continue to believe that limiting the applicant pool to States and Tribal Organizations is necessary in order to minimize administrative costs and to streamline the grant process. However, as in the prior iteration of the program, each applicant State is required to coordinate its application with local governments and PSAPs within the State and to ensure that 90 percent of the grant funds be used for the direct benefit of PSAPs.”

The agencies had also asked whether they should retain a one-step application process or use a two-step process. “Based on the comments received, including the more detailed comments described below, the Agencies have determined that a two-step application will provide applicants with the most stable initial funding levels upon which they can prepare project budgets and will ensure the most efficient application process,” they said.

The agencies also said they have decided to allocate funds across all states and territories rather than devoting funds to particular “model” NG-911 deployments.  They said they “continue to believe that a formula-based distribution of grant funds to all eligible States is necessary to assist in the implementation of NG911 nationwide, not just in specific locations. The Agencies have set a minimum grant amount in order to ensure that each eligible State and Territory receives a more than de minimis amount of grant funds.”

They also said “that the existing formula, which equally accounts for population and road miles, is the most reliable method for calculating the distribution of 911 Grant Program funds.” They declined to set a minimum grant amount for tribes but said they will retain the proposed maximum level of funding.

NTIA and NHTSA also said that they “do not believe that waivers are the most effective means of addressing the problem of vendors that do not meet existing standards. Rather, any vendor that believes it is impossible to meet existing standards is encouraged to work with the relevant Standards Development Organization (SDO) to revise existing standards.”

The agencies also said that they “will not set a limit on the amount of funds that may be used for training. However, 911 Grant Program funds may only be used for training that is related to NG911 implementation and operations. In order to ensure similar levels of training across the different components of NG911, the ‘Recommended Minimum Training Guidelines for Telecommunicators’ must serve as a base level for training provided.”

The agencies also disagreed with the argument that they should adopt a definition of 911 fee diversion. “The NG911 Advancement Act requires applicants to certify that ‘no portion of any designated 911 charges imposed by a State or other taxing jurisdiction within which the applicant is located are being obligated or expended for any purpose other than the purposes for which such charges are designated or presented.’’ As such, fee diversion is largely dependent upon how the fees in question are designated, which varies by State. Providing a single definition of fee diversion, beyond the description provided by the statute and incorporated in the certifications, would ignore the ability of States to designate 911 charges.”

They said they expect to provide an anticipated date for the awarding of funds in a notice of funding opportunity.

“Today’s announcement is welcome progress to help law enforcement and Public Safety Answering Points nationwide fully realize Next Generation 9-1-1 capabilities. It is critical for the nation’s 9-1-1 network to keep pace with 21st century technology, allowing that lifesaving call to take the form of voice, text, or video,” said Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.), chairman of the House communications and technology subcommittee. —Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

Courtesy TRDaily