NENA: Congress needs to keep its promise on funding
PITTSBURGH—While acknowledging the “tough budget climate” that currently exists in Washington, National Emergency Number Association Director of Government Affairs Patrick Halley said yesterday during NENA’s annual conference that Congress needs to fulfill the promises it made to the public-safety answering point (PSAP) sector when it passed the Enhance 911 Act in 2004.
“It’s pointless to have killed ourselves on this legislation when it’s not even close to being funded,” Halley said. “The authorization exists, and the promise of money has been made. We need to make Congress fulfill that promise.”
The legislation authorized up to $250 million annually over five years for PSAP upgrades, particularly to bring them into compliance with the FCC’s Phase 2 mandate, which requires wireless carriers and 911 call centers to provide location information for emergency calls placed using a mobile phone. While 75% of the nation’s population currently is served by Phase 2-compliant PSAPs, about half of the 6700 emergency call centers nationwide—primarily in rural areas—currently comply with the mandate, according to a recently released NENA report.
Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), who co-chair the Congressional E-911 Caucus, each introduced legislation in April calling for Congress to appropriate $42 million, but a House subcommittee already has trimmed $21 million out of one of the requests, Halley said.
“It’s tough to get funding right now; it’s particularly tough to get new programs funded,” Halley said. “This is a program that doesn’t have a history and doesn’t exist.”
In January, President Bush signed legislation that appropriated $43.5 million for E-911 upgrades, but the money won’t be available until the 700 MHz spectrum that Congress is forcing broadcasters to vacate is auctioned, which is a big problem, Halley said.
“No money will be available for PSAP grants until ’08 at the minimum, maybe ’09. That’s not acceptable, obviously,” he said.
Some states have decided to take funding matters into their own hands. In Kentucky, the legislature recently passed a law that increased the proportion PSAPs receive from wireless 911 surcharges. Previously, PSAPs and wireless carriers split the proceeds evenly; now PSAPs receive 80% of available money, according to Ken Mitchell, executive director of the Kentucky Office of 911 Coordination.
Virginia lawmakers, realizing that traditional PSAP funding methods are drying up, passed legislation that eliminated all local telecom-related taxes and surcharges, replacing them with a statewide 5% sales tax on all telecom-related services, including satellite and cable services, said Steve Marzolf, the state’s public-safety coordinator.
“Most of the local taxes were on wireline service, and whether we want to admit this or not, wireline is a dying service,” he said, adding that some municipalities have reported double-digit reductions—some as high as 17%—in the amount of money collected from wireline surcharges.
However, the statewide sales tax fell about $50 million short of the money needed to maintain and operate the state’s PSAPs, so the legislature reestablished a 75-cent 911 surcharge to cover the shortfall, Marzolf said.