Congress should recognize that FCC cost study on NG-911 only a first step
A few weeks ago, the FCC released its cost study on the cost associated with making the transition from the legacy 911 networks to a next-generation 911 (NG-911) system that would enable public-safety answering points (PSAPs) to receive text, images and video communications from emergency callers.
It was nice to see the first estimate of any kind regarding the potential costs for NG-911. According to the FCC study, it would cost $2.68 billion over 10 years to provide the broadband connectivity to PSAPs needed for the next-generation architecture, if the number of PSAPs that exist today remains constant. However, if there is significant PSAP consolidation — a very real possibility — and even more PSAPs opt for hosted solutions, the 10-year cost estimate is only $1.44 billion.
“We tried to analyze what we could analyze — the things that are, at this stage, boundable,” Jamie Barnett, chief of the FCC public safety and homeland security bureau, said during a press conference after the FCC meeting.
“My hope is that this [cost study] is going to have the same type of effect that our cost model did for the public-safety broadband network. Once the FCC produced its cost model on the broadband network, you immediately saw the Hill start to talk in terms of numbers. We hope this will spur that kind of conversation [among] federal policymakers and Congressional leaders.”
Indeed, to get federal funding — something most industry observers believe will be necessary to make NG-911 a reality in the foreseeable future — cost estimates are needed. After all, lawmakers need to have some idea how much any project will cost before they can seriously consider providing any financial support.
What needs to be emphasized to Capitol Hill is that this cost estimate only looks at the network-connectivity aspect of NG-911. It does not try to estimate how much new equipment, software or personnel a PSAP would have to add to make the next-generation vision a reality — substantial costs that probably cannot be estimated right now, as there are too many variables and potential changes that would need to be considered.
Of course, the broadband-connectivity cost is an important piece the NG-911 puzzle. As Barnett noted, “We do feel like this is an important first step, because none of [the NG-911 vision for PSAPs] becomes possible unless they’re connected.” In addition, the fact that the migration to NG-911 promises to be significantly less expensive if PSAP consolidation and hosting arrangements are pursued is a reality that should not be forgotten by lawmakers or the emergency-calling community.
But providing broadband connectivity to PSAPs will not complete their migration to NG-911.
With this in mind, someone should explain clearly to lawmakers that approving $1.5 billion to $2.7 billion in funding would not make NG-911 a reality across the country. The cost likely will be much higher, but it would be difficult to provide meaningful estimates without assessing the current technological status of each PSAPs and waiting for the pricing of NG-911 equipment and software solutions to be better established.
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