LONG BEACH, Calif.--This week at the National Emergency Number Association conference here, a legislative aide to Rep. John Shimkus (R, Ill.) -- co-chair of the Congressional E911 Caucus -- told attendees that the PSAP community essentially is going to get screwed by Congress during the next couple of years.

Telecom legislation signed by President Bush last year authorizes $250 million each year for the next five years for PSAP upgrades that will bring them into compliance with the FCC's Phase 2 mandate -- which requires call centers and wireless service providers to provide location information for subscribers making wireless 911 calls.However, it is likely that the PSAP community will see only $3 million to $8 million this year, and no more than $20 million next year (see story).

The aide said that, because the law was passed so late last year, it couldn't be included in this year's federal budget, which is why PSAPs will have to settle for scraps in 2005. That makes sense. What doesn't is the $20 million -- or less -- that PSAPs will have to accept next year. It's an insulting amount, given the crucial role that emergency call centers and their personnel play in saving lives. Some of their stories are told in the story below on NENA's "everyday heroes." Of course, these anecdotes only scratch the surface of the enormous impact the PSAP community has on the lives of Americans, both civilians and first responders.

It's interesting that Congress is contemplating spending anywhere from $500 million to $4.5 billion to subsidize converters that will make it possible for analog televisions to receive digital television signals, which in turn will speed the process to force broadcasters to vacate the 700 MHz band -- some of which will be reallocated to public safety -- but would provide less than 10% of what federal legislation has authorized for PSAPs next year. Of course, members of Congress are understandably wary of the outcry they would have to endure should they deprive their constituents of the inalienable right to watch Desperate Housewives. It seems to me, however, that there are many Americans -- and not just those in Washington -- who need to reprioritize their values.

Some will say that the law still has value, even if funding falls dismally short of the $250 million that has been authorized, because it still punishes states that divert to other purposes funds that have been collected from wireless subscribers to support enhanced 911. But if only $20 million is available for PSAP grants nationwide, that enforcement component loses most, if not all, of its teeth.

It was suggested to NENA attendees that they contact their representatives in Congress when they are in their home offices this summer to lobby on a grassroots level for increased PSAP funding. It was a notion echoed by Patrick Halley, NENA's governmental affairs director, who told me that the time has come for the organization's members to take a more active role in the lobbying effort.

My suggestion is that they take with them a copy of the story on NENA's everyday heroes and give it to their Congressman. That's what I'm planning to do.

E-mail me at gbischoff@primediabusiness.com.