Leaders of the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) and the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) this week announced their joint support of legislation that would accelerate the availability of $43.5 million in federal funding for 911 system upgrades.

In the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, the $43.5 million in anticipated 700 MHz auction proceeds was earmarked for grants to public-safety answering points (PSAPs) established by the Enhance 911 Act of 2004. Legislation introduced by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska)—vice chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee—would make the funds available to PSAPs immediately, instead of waiting until after revenues are collected from the 700 MHz auction.

With the auction scheduled to begin as late as January 2008, the 911 grant funds would not be available until late 2008 or 2009 under current law, according to a letter from NENA President Jason Barbour and APCO President Wanda McCarley.

“Obtaining funding for this grant program as soon as possible is critical to allow underfunded PSAPs to obtain the resources they need to upgrade their wireless E911 capabilities and for necessary staffing and training needs,” the letter states. “We strongly support ensuring that immediate funding is provided for 911 and hope your offices will work together to make this legislation, and 911 funding in general, a priority.”

There is a precedent for such action, as Congress has passed legislation dictating that $1 billion in public-safety interoperability funding—also supported by 700 MHz auction revenue—be distributed by Sept. 30 of this year.

“It’s not new money, per se. It’s just saying, ‘There’s money out there, why are we waiting for it?’” said Patrick Halley, NENA’s government affairs director. “[The Congressional Budget Office] has said it would have no negative impact on the budget. Since that’s been taken care of, I think it should be a no-brainer.”

Helping the cause is the fact that Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.)—the Democratic chairperson of the Senate E911 Caucus—this week agreed to co-sponsor the bill. Halley said he believes “we can make this happen in the House,” as well.