Senate Committee seeks funding ideas for next-gen 911
Public-safety and industry experts told the Senate Commerce Committee last month that next-generation 911 technology will greatly enhance emergency response and should be available soon, but committee leaders questioned how to pay for such IP-based upgrades.
Discussion of the matter occurred during a hearing addressing S.428, a bill that is designed to fill “holes” in the FCC order requiring the most popular voice-over-IP (VoIP) providers to provide E911 service to their customers, said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), sponsor of the bill.
Besides addressing several immediate issues facing VoIP providers of E911, the bill includes language to encourage migration of public-safety answering points (PSAPs) to IP-enabled technologies that would let emergency callers communicate via mediums other than voice. Such networks would be more resilient than the current 911 system, Nelson said.
But funding the capital expenditures associated with a next-generation 911 system is problematic because many current funding models — typically based on fees charged to the ever-shrinking number of traditional fixed telephony lines — are proving to be inadequate.
“We can have all the benefits [of next-generation 911 technology] and bring up the hopes of our folks, but if you can’t pay for it, it’s just a dream,” said Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii).
Panelists generally expressed support for the direction of S.428, which would ensure that VoIP providers have access to legacy components needed to be part of the 911 system, extend liability protection to VoIP providers and PSAPs and codifies the FCC’s authority over VoIP services.
Susan O’Leary, executive vice president for VoIP provider Vonage, said 95% of her company’s customers have access to E911 and that the company hopes to reach the 100% mark by the end of the summer. Of the 5% of Vonage customers currently without E911 capability, three-fourths can be attributed to the lack of access to the 911 system — something S.428 would mandate — that often is controlled by an incumbent competitor.
“We need to ensure that 911 remains a public trust, not a tool to block competition,” O’Leary said.