The FCC included the question of funding in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which it released in October to gather input on how to speed the transition to NG911. The federal government has provided some grants in the past to help states and PSAPs move toward next-generation systems.

However, Fontes said the federal government is unlikely to fund the transition. “Right now our country’s in a severe debt crisis, if you will, and to think that Congress is going to immediately step in and fund all of this would probably be a false assumption.”

Fontes believes that a Blue Ribbon Panel — an idea that was proposed by the FCC’s Communications Security, Reliability and Interoperability Council — is the best way to find a solution. “When you get experts together with that goal in mind,” he said, “they’ll come out with a series of options on how best to fund NG911 that will work.”

Statewide Network in Indiana

In Indiana, cellphone subscribers pay a monthly 50-cent fee for 911 services. The subscriber fees, which were originally set at 65 cents per wireless subscriber in the 1990s, helped Indiana fund a statewide network aimed at bringing more efficiency to wireless 911 call routing, as well as funding PSAP needs. The IP-based network, called IN911, has undergone several upgrades over the years — the latest took place in 2010 and allowed full support for multimedia emergency services such as text and images. In addition to subscriber fees, Indiana received a $1.56 million federal grant two years ago that helped with the network upgrade along with projects in some of the state’s PSAPs. Indiana also imposed a 25 cent per transaction fee for prepaid wireless in 2010.

Currently 92 counties are connected to the network and can transfer calls and their associated data. In addition, IN911 now supports some wireline calls and other IP-based services, including connections to national crime databases.

Mark Grady, president of INdigital, the company commissioned by the Indiana Wireless e911 Advisory Board to build and operate the network, said the lightly regulated environment in Indiana was very conducive to building the network. The state developed legislation in the late 1990s that provided liability limitations for service providers and allowed Indiana to move forward without running into a lot of regulatory hurdles that exist in other states.

However, the state ran into a long legal battle with one carrier. PSAPs in that carrier’s territory have not connected to the statewide network, but according to Barry Ritter, executive director of the Wireless e911 Advisory Board, the state has reached an agreement with the carrier that will allow Indiana’s remaining PSAPs to enjoy the same benefits.

“We’ve established what we’re calling a ‘functional direct connect,’” Ritter said, adding that the arrangement will connect the PSAPs via that provider’s network and allow all PSAPs in the state to transfer calls with data.

Grady said the board is now asking the Indiana Legislature to update the 911 statute to provide liability limitations for nonvoice technologies and require that subscribers with any device capable of making a 911 call be subject to subscriber fees.

“Generally we’re just going in this year to modernize our state legislation — to make sure that we have the flexibility for the next 15 years as technology continues to change and move ahead,” Grady said.

The state is rolling out the texting capability, but Grady said Indiana is taking a cautious approach. Texting can be initiated by the 911 call-taker once a traditional voice call has been placed, but the public will not be able to directly text 911 — at least not yet. In addition to liability limitations, Grady said technology standards and location-awareness issues related to text messaging also must be ironed out, and call-takers may not be ready to add nonvoice communication to their already stressful workload.

“We’re letting call-takers determine what and how much they want to get,” Grady said.

Though many things have yet to be resolved with NG911, the foundation is being laid for the technology and the momentum is building. According to Intrado’s Hernandez, 911 operators will have a variety of options, including building and maintaining their own networks and contracting with a provider. But the infrastructure itself is a known entity. “There are enough deployments out there that for those who are questioning how do I do this, there are answers for them to determine how they get this new 911 deployed in their jurisdiction. We’re no longer in that early adopter phase; we are now rolling this out in a very big way across the country.”

This article was originally published by Emergency Management.

Emily Montandon  |  Editor