As expected, President Bush today signed the New and Emerging Technologies 911 Improvement Act of 2008.

The law (HR 3403) requires voice-over-IP service providers to provide 911 and enhanced 911 service to their subscribers; requires the FCC to establish rules that ensure VoIP providers have access to the 911 system; requires the E911 Implementation Coordination Office (EICO) to develop a plan for the nationwide migration to IP-based next-generation technology, requires the EICO to identify solutions that improve access to 911 and E911 services by persons with disabilities; establishes liability protections for IP-based service providers and public-safety answering points; and allows for the collection of 911 and E911 fees from VoIP subscribers by state and local agencies.

The law also lets funding from the Enhance 911 Act of 2004 be used for the migration to NG 911. “That helps, to the extent that money becomes available,” said Christopher Day, legislative counsel for Sen. Bill Nelson.

So far, Congress has appropriated only $43 million of the $1.25 billion it authorized in the Enhance 911 Act. Previously, such funding could only be used for upgrades to the FCC’s wireless E911 Phase 2 mandate, which requires the identification of the longitude and latitude of the caller’s wireless device. (Phase 1 requires the identification of the cellular tower that handled the 911 call.)

Some within the Beltway have viewed this restriction as an obstacle to 911 appropriations because most high-population areas already have made the conversion to Phase 2. On that note, Patrick Halley, governmental affairs director for the National Emergency Number Association expressed hope that allowing Enhance 911 Act funds to be used for NG 911 buildouts will help the money start flowing.

“I think it can do nothing but help,” Halley said.

However, the clock is ticking. The Enhance 911 Act’s authorization ends next year, and NENA already is hard at work to get the law reauthorized. In a previous interview with MRT, Halley said that while nothing in Washington is a “slam-dunk,” particularly when it comes to money, he feels good about the prospect of reauthorization, precisely because the money now can be used to bring PSAPs into the future.

“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.”