This week, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that the Big Apple is committed to deploying technology that would let anyone with a camera phone send images and video to the city's 911 and 311 call centers.

Without question, this is a positive development. There is too much crime and too few police to enforce our nation's laws, so leveraging such technology to lend a hand is a good thing. I've often thought that police departments erred several decades ago when they eliminated beat cops -- never knowing when an officer might turn the corner effectively deterred many a would-be criminal. In this day and age, most cities don't have the financial resources to deploy beat cops. (Ironically, New York is one that does.)

At the same time, I can't help but think about the thousands of public-safety answering points (PSAPs) nationwide that still are not compliant with the FCC's Phase 2 mandate, which requires call centers to provide location information for wireless subscribers making 911 calls from their mobile handsets. According to the National Emergency Number Association, which represents the nation's PSAPs, half of U.S. counties, primarily in rural areas, cannot provide enhanced 911 services today. While NYC is pushing forward to deploy whiz-bang futuristic technology in its PSAPs, much of the rest of the country goes lacking.

The dichotomy is understandable to some degree, given New York's population density, its status as the nation's financial center and its vulnerability as a terrorist target. Ergo, Manhattan, N.Y., always is going to have more resources, financial and otherwise, to leverage than, say, Manhattan, Kan. But we're not suggesting that cutting-edge technology such as that planned for NYC be deployed in sparsely populated outposts; rather, we're asking why rural America still is unable to avail itself of an essential, life-saving service at this late date.

It has been more than three and a half years since federal legislation was introduced that authorized $250 million annually over a five-year period for PSAP upgrades. Virtually none of the money has been appropriated. It's difficult to understand why, as the dollars earmarked for the upgrades represents lunch money -- literally -- when compared to the federal government's roughly $3 trillion budget. (To put this in perspective, the annual authorization would be equivalent to $2.50 to someone making $30,000 per year.)

One of the legislation's co-sponsors, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) almost certainly will make a run for the White House in 2008. If the current state of E-911 still exists a year from now, I hope someone asks her why she hasn't been able to lead the Democratic majority on Capitol Hill to pony up the money for what seems like a no-brainer initiative. The answer she would provide would offer some much needed insight as to whether she has what it takes to lead the country.

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