DENVER—Funding for 911 needs to change to ensure that public-safety answering points (PSAPs) throughout the nation can deploy next-generation 911—a vision that likely will require greater participation from the federal government, according to National Emergency Number Association (NENA) CEO Brian Fontes.

“The funding model for 911 served its purpose at its time, but its time has passed,” Fontes said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “Funding for next-generation 911 has to be redesigned and rethought—it’s critical. And closely associated with that is: What is the federal government’s role in all of this?”

Historically, 911 was established as a local service when landline phones dominated the communications landscape and the population was less mobile, so 911 funding models that leveraged monies that were generated on a local basis made sense at the time, Fontes said. But those funding models do not work as well in today’s society, in which about 80% of 911 calls come from wireless devices that could be located anywhere a given moment, he said.

“We have a highly mobile population, and why should they have one set of experiences with information-rich 911 service in City A and have plain-old-telephone-service—last-century technology—in City B?” Fontes said. “I think that’s extraordinarily unfortunate.”

Next-generation 911 features an all-IP platform that can receive voice, text, data, photo or video information from the public and distribute it to the relevant first responders, when appropriate. It is important that PSAPs throughout the country have these next-generation functionalities, because the general public does—and many consumers already believe the 911 system supports these capabilities, Fontes said.

In addition, deploying next-generation 911 is especially important as FirstNet works to build a nationwide broadband network dedicated to first responders in the field, Fontes said.

“I totally agree that our field responders need IP-based, wireless, public-safety broadband network to move them into the 21st Century,” he said. “I support that 100%.

“We must have next-generation 911 supported 100%, because—in reality—this is a partnership,” he said. “The public has already made a substantial investment in technology that they have at their fingertips that would enable pushing information through to public safety, but there doesn’t seem to be that same investment on the public-safety side by the communities, states and federal government to ensure that these FirstNet/next-generation911systems have the capability of being fully funded and have the funding for operations, once they are built.”

Given these circumstances, it would be appropriate for key stakeholders to convene and develop a comprehensive plan for all of public-safety communication to help ensure that appropriate funding is available for all of the critical broadband initiatives in the space, Fontes said.

“I wish there could be a 911/public-safety summit, that includes state officials and federal officials, to address the issue of how to ensure that next-generation 911 is deployed, so that it can interface—as required by law—with FirstNet’s infrastructure and service,” he said.

“It would be nice if these intelligent people can work on funding models that may provide new opportunities, rather than the funding model that existed when 911 was just purely a local, hometown service.”

Fontes acknowledged that it would be difficult to assemble such a summit, given the many issues that the key stakeholders are responsible for addressing on a regular basis.