House proposes $15 billion for NG911 funding in new infrastructure bill
House Democrats have proposed a massive infrastructure bill that would provide $15 billion in federal funds to pay for 911 centers nationwide to be upgraded to IP-based, next-generation-911 (NG911) technology. While all public-safety organizations support the notion of NG911 funding, there are some disagreements within the community about some language in the legislation.
Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) last week introduced the infrastructure bill, the Leading Infrastructure for Tomorrow’s America Act, or the LIFT America Act. In recent years, there has been considerable discussion on Capitol Hill to upgrade the nation’s aging infrastructure, but this legislation represents an opportunity to make this vision a reality, he said.
“Over the last year, we’ve seen the devastating results of inaction: major power outages, water shortages, health care facilities stretched to the limit, and communities left behind due to the digital divide,” Pallone said in a prepared statement. “By modernizing our infrastructure, we have an opportunity to revitalize our economy, create millions of new jobs, combat climate change, and ensure no community is left behind.”
There is general consensus that one area in need of modernization is the nation’s 911 infrastructure, which was designed as voice-centric emergency-calling platform in the 1960s and 1970s, when the public’s only way to seek help was to call a 911 center from a landline telephone. Today, more than 80% of calls come from cellular phones and there is a growing expectation that 911 centers should be able to receive text, data, photo and video communications, as well as voice calls.
Language in the infrastructure bill calls for $15 billion to fund the migration from legacy 911 systems to NG911 technology—a $3 billion increase in proposed funding compared to 911 funding bills introduced in recent sessions of Congress. The new bill largely reflects the language proposed by the Public Safety Next Generation 911 Coalition, which includes representatives from associations representing fire, EMS and law-enforcement agencies, as well the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO).
Mel Maier, chairman of the Public Safety Next Generation 911 Coalition, said the membership was “really excited” that key aspects supported by the organization—an advisory committee, cybersecurity measures, training effort and the additional $3 billion—were included in the infrastructure bill.
Maier applauded the “tireless” efforts of staff members from the offices of Pallone and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.)—a co-chair of the Congressional Next Gen 911 Caucus—to put the NG911 language in the proposed infrastructure package. Although the LIFT America Act was introduced by House Democrats, Maier said he believes the measure can garner bipartisan support, particularly around an issue like promoting the citizen safety with an upgraded 911 system.
“Our partners will be the vendor community, the telecommunications folks—they’re going to work with us, and we’re going to have the right people doing the right thing on this,” Maier said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “I’m excited to have the chiefs and the sheriffs stand up on this. I’m proud of what we accomplished, but I’m going to be more proud of what we’re going to accomplish once this thing gets through.
“I’m very positive about the outcome. All of those people that right now don’t share that vision, I think they will once they see the end-result product. I think they’re going to be very excited to see this, especially when its about an industry that we’ve all said we are supporting—911, the operators and the folks that run these 911 centers and the people that work there. That’s our mission—to support them. And that’s what we’re going to do.”
As Maier mentioned, some public-safety organizations expressed concerns with some language within the NG911 portion of the massive infrastructure proposal, including the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), which has led the push for federal NG911 funding in the past, including the Next Generation 911 Act of 2019.
NENA has not been part of Public Safety Next Generation 911 Coalition’s meeting during the past year and is not listed as a supporter of the legislation in the coalition’s press release about the infrastructure bill.
Indeed, NENA’s press release states that some of the NG911 language “could complicate and delay NG911 deployments, waste scarce federal resources, and shift authority over 911 from states and localities to the federal government” and asks federal lawmakers use the 2019 language as the foundation for NG911 funding proposal.
“The infrastructure bill is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fix the cracks in the foundation of all public safety response: America’s 911 systems,” NENA CEO Brian Fontes said in a prepared statement. “It is absolutely essential that we get it right. But unfortunately, the language introduced [in the LIFT America Act] could strand already-substantial state investments in NG911 deployments, and create cybersecurity risks for state, local, and tribal governments.”
This sentiment differs considerably from the view expressed by Dereck Poarch, the executive director and CEO of APCO, which is a member of the Public Safety Next Generation 911 Coalition.
“APCO wishes to sincerely thank Representatives Pallone and Eshoo and their staff for being strong allies of the public safety community and for their work in introducing this much-needed legislation that will greatly benefit 9-1-1 professionals and the public they serve,” Poarch said in a prepared statement.
“We look forward to working with all members of Congress to build support and achieve passage of this bill, which is so critical to modernizing the nation’s emergency communications infrastructure.”
In addition to APCO, other Public Safety Next Generation 911 Coalition organizations supporting the infrastructure bill include the Major County Sheriffs of America, Major Cities Chiefs Association, National Sheriffs Association, International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association, and the National Association of State EMS Officials (NASEMSO).
Some notable 911-oriented organizations not included in this list are NENA, the National Association of State 911 Administrators (NASNA) and the Industry Council for Emergency Response Technologies (iCERT).