U.S. senators yesterday 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.

Some key aspects of the bill—HR 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 legislation would allow such collections nationwide.

In addition, 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 (NENA).

“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 during an interview with MRT. “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.”

Other aspects of the bill include deadlines for federal agencies. The national 911 office is required to report to Congress on the status of next-generation 911 and areas that Capitol Hill can aid the transition within 270 days of the measure becoming law. Within 90 days of the bill becoming law, the FCC is required to establish rules to ensure the ability of IP-based communications providers to interconnect with the 911 system—a significant hurdle in the early days of VoIP that is not considered as great a problem today.

“Most of this has already happened anyway, without the need for these rules,” Halley said.

This legislation is the product of two similar bills passed previously by the Senate and the House, followed by an “informal” conference committee, Halley said. This measure is expected to pass the House this week, needing only presidential approval to become law, he said.