BALTIMORE--President George W. Bush last week signed into a law a measure that lets the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) allocate $43.5 million for 911 network upgrades, according to panelists speaking at the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) conference.

The funding provision was part of the 9/11 Commission Report legislation signed by President Bush on Friday, said Greg Rohde, executive director of the E-911 Institute. Public-safety answering points (PSAPs) would not receive any new money, but the new law means NTIA does not have to wait until the 700 MHz auction to disburse the grant funds.

“That means that the NTIA has the authority to borrow—immediately—the $43.5 million,” Rohde said. “It’s a big deal.”

Indeed, since Congress passed the Enhance 911 Act in 2004 that authorized $1.25 billion for PSAP upgrades, no money had been appropriated for this purpose. The $43.5 million grant program—funded with anticipated proceeds from the 700 MHz spectrum auction that is expected to be completed next year—is the first federal funds for PSAPs in this effort.

Under previous law, the $43.5 million earmarked for 911 upgrades would not be available until after the auction. Accelerating the availability of this money is not unprecedented. A similar measure enabled $1 billion in interoperability grant money—also funded by anticipated 700 MHz auction proceeds—to be made available this year.

However, Rohde noted that the new law gives NTIA the opportunity to accelerate disbursement of the $43.5 million, but there is no mandated timetable for the agency to do so—unlike the interoperability money, which Congress required the agency to allocate by Oct. 1 this year. When NTIA decides to make the money available, it will need to establish a grant-application procedure for 911 entities to submit proposals for the funds, Rohde said.