Both the Senate and House passed legislation designed to help public-safety answering points (PSAPs) migrate to next-generation 911 by clarifying some policy issues that have been considered barriers to the transition. As of press time, President George W. Bush was expected to sign the bill into law.

Some key aspects of the bill — H.R. 3043 — include providing liability protection for service providers and PSAPs using IP-based communications to enter the 911 system, something that was effectively prohibited by some state laws. Similarly, some state laws do not allow the collection of 911 fees for wireless or voice-over-IP (VoIP) services, but the federal legislation would allow such collections nationwide.

Notably, the bill allows grant money from the Enhance 911 Act of 2004 to be used to fund efforts to upgrade PSAPs to next-generation architectures, said Patrick Halley, government affairs director for the National Emergency Number Association.

“Before, those funds could only be used for Phase II wireless. Now, those funds can be used for Phase II wireless and the migration to ‘an IP-enabled emergency network,’” Halley said. “In other words, you can use some of those funds for Phase II wireless, but you can also them for broader, next-generation IP technology, which we think is very important.”

It's important because Congress so far has appropriated only $43.5 million of the $1.25 billion the Enhance 911 Act authorized over a five-year period. “The fact that the money can be used for broader purposes, we hope, will help us,” Halley said. “Maybe we can … get people to open up their minds and their coffers.”

Before that can happen, however, it is likely that Congress first will have to reauthorize the Enhance 911 Act, a prospect that doesn't worry Halley, precisely because NENA now has a much better story to tell. “Bills have a finite life and they get reauthorized all the time,” he said. “A lot of people already are lined up to work on this.”