Potential $2 trillion infrastructure initiative could be a vehicle to help fund NG911 deployment
Democratic congressional leaders met with President Donald Trump today and expressed optimism about a potential $2 trillion infrastructure bill that would include funding for broadband—the type of massive spending bill that some public-safety officials have said is needed to fund nationwide deployment of next-generation 911 (NG911).
After meeting with Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said they agreed with Trump that infrastructure legislation should target $2 trillion in spending on infrastructure and that the group would be meeting again in three weeks to discuss Trump’s funding ideas.
“It was a very constructive meeting,” Schumer said when speaking to reporters outside the White House. “We agreed on a number, which was very, very, good, $2 trillion for infrastructure. Originally, we had started a little lower, and even the President was eager to push it up to $2 trillion. That is a very good thing.”
In addition to providing funding for traditional infrastructure needs such as roads, tunnels and bridges, the massive infrastructure proposal would include money to pay for water, clean-energy and broadband initiatives.
Inclusion of broadband could open the door to numerous initiatives regarding hot topics like rural connectivity, smart cities, smart grid and NG911, which is designed to operate on an IP-based broadband platform. While legacy 911 systems were designed to handle emergency voice calls, NG911 would let public-safety answering points (PSAPs) natively receive multimedia—text, data, pictures and video—from humans and potentially alerting sensors.
According to a cost study made public last year, an estimated $9.5 billion to $12.7 billion in federal funding is needed to make NG911 available nationwide, depending on the deployment strategy used. Many public-safety proponents have expressed the belief that having NG911 funding in a larger spending bill could be the most politically practical approach, noting that spectrum and funding for FirstNet was part of a broader funding legislation approved in 2012.
But Brian Fontes, CEO of the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), said it is unclear at the moment whether NG911 funding could be part of a potential infrastructure bill.
“It’s too early to tell,” Fontes said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications yesterday, prior to the meeting between Trump, Pelosi and Schumer. “Hopefully, in the next two or three weeks, we’ll know more, but it’s too early to tell.”
Indeed, many industry observers believe NG911 funding legislation language needs to be proposed formally before it can be considered in a larger infrastructure proposal. Last year, NG911 legislation was introduced in the House and Senate, but the bills lacked a key element—a funding amount—because the cost study was not released until late in the Congressional session.
Although the NG911 cost study has been available all year, no NG911 funding bill has been proposed to date. There are 911-related bills that have been introduced in the House and Senate, but those legislative proposals call for telecommunicators to be reclassified from their current “office and administrative support” status to the “protective service” category.
One point of consensus is that the public-safety community needs to be united in support of NG911 funding legislations when it is introduced.
Jeff Cohen, chief counsel and director of government relations at APCO, said that such solidarity historically has been the “formula” behind the passage of key federal legislation in the public-safety-communications arena. Fontes echoed this sentiment, noting that widespread first-responder support for a legislative initiative is a “key component” to its ultimate success.
Historically, funding 911 has been the responsibility of state and local government. If federal lawmakers were to approve the estimated $9.5 billion to $12.7 billion to fund NG911 deployments nationwide, the amount would dwarf the $158 million that Congress has provided for NG911 during the past 15 years.