The increasing array of communication devices and platforms is a challenge to emergency response services. Realizing that the current regulatory status is more a hindrance than a help, the FCC recently issued a report calling on Congress to act in the interest of 911 service providers.
In many states, public safety answering points (PSAPs), because of long-standing state and local regulations, are forced to purchase 911 services from local telephone providers. These regulations made sense when 911 was created and all calls were based in landline telephones. As they stand now, these legacy regulations effectively hinder the transfer of emergency service calls to next-generation technologies better able to service the communication formats that have evolved beyond traditional land and wireless calls.
In an attempt to facilitate upgrades to next-generation 911 architecture using IP technology enabling emergency communication via multimedia, the FCC has requested that Congress remove outdated regulatory restrictions. In addition, the FCC has requested that incentives be put in place for states that implement regulations favoring next-generation deployments.
As part of a comprehensive plan to support 911, the FCC’s report has requested that Congress support the creation of location technologies that support all next-generation 911 applications, no matter the network or device used by callers. The report also calls on legislators to establish national databases supporting next-generation 911 security and routing.
Currently the federal government plays a small role in 911 systems, and 911 receives little federal money allocated to public safety, a fact which leaves the federal government little leverage in pushing for next-generation upgrades. Trey Forgety, director of government affairs for the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) is hopeful about changes. “One of the things that NENA has proposed — and I think one of the early recommendations in the report sort of supports this notion — is that 911 should be put on an equal footing with all other public safety purposes for federal grant funding. In other words, 911 should be right up there with police, fire, EMS, homeland security and emergency management. And that’s a fix that can happen without any new dollars being appropriated.”
The FCC’s report also addresses critical issues of local 911 funding formulas. In many jurisdictions, 911 fees are only tied to traditional landline and wireless connections, ignoring completely the broadband connections used more and more by consumers. The report calls on Congress to broaden the base of contributors to better align with the benefits derived from 911 service.
Says Forgety, “We want to make it as cheap and easy as possible for originating service providers to offer 911 service to their customers. So, if I’m AOL, Vonage or whoever I am in the originating-service world, we want to make it as cheap and easy for them to get to 911 as possible. The notion is that, if you make it free — or very cheap — and easy, people will do it, and we’ll expand the set of originating services that can access 911, and that’s very important for consumers.”