FCC Should Move Forward with Plan to Use Auction Proceeds to Fund NG911
By Karima Holmes
Friday, May 20, 2022 | Comments
Not many people think about 911 until they themselves are involved in an emergency. It’s the number everyone knows but hopes they will never have to dial. And then, when they do have to, the expectation is that help will arrive at the incident location precisely and instantaneously.

Had I not answered the recruitment bulletin in my hometown’s municipal office calling for 911 operators thus beginning my more than 20-year professional career at every level of emergency communications, I too likely would have been one of the scores of Americans who have taken the 911 calling system for granted.

Perennially forward thinking, the FCC challenged the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) to find a means of establishing a universal emergency number that could be implemented quickly in 1967. In 1968, AT&T announced that it would establish the digits 9-1-1 (nine-one-one) as the emergency code throughout the United States.

The rest is history as they say. The first 911 call was placed by Rep. Rankin Fite, speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives, in the town of Haleyville, Alabama, on February 16 of that year. Still, it would be years before the system was widespread and decades before it was uniform. Incredibly, by 1987 only 50 percent of the nation was even using the system. In fact, it wasn’t until around 1999 that 95% of the U.S. population had access to 911 services.

With the public advent of the internet in 1989, we began to witness lightning speed progression in nearly every industry. Along with the explosion of quality-of-life advancements we all enjoy, has come the requisite expectation from the public that the solutions to their most pressing needs will be at their fingertips and that their literal lifeline, 911, has also advanced with other technologies. The truth is that it has not.

From my vantage point as a 911 subject matter expert (SME) who has served as executive director at emergency communications centers (ECC) across the U.S. and chaired industry workgroups charged with combatting our nation’s 911 systems’ most critical challenges, I can tell you that the evolution of 911 has been epically slow and technological advancements of all kinds have outpaced our legacy 911 calling systems. Nearly a quarter billion 911 calls are made every year across the United States, and believe it or not, many communities are still relying on technology not very different from that which made the very first 911 call possible.

Knowing that 911 systems across this country are not operating in contemporary environments is what keeps me up at night. Because most 911 systems were originally built using analog rather than digital technologies, 911 call-taking operations need to be upgraded to digital or IP)-based 911 systems. This is referred to as next-generation 911 (NG911).

Evolving 911 to NG911 would mean creating a secure, nationwide, interoperable, standards- based, all-IP emergency communications infrastructure enabling end-to-end transmission of all types of data, including voice and multimedia communications from the public to every emergency communications center.

Recently, I learned about FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel’s revolutionary proposal to urge Congress to adopt legislative text dedicating a portion of the proceeds from future spectrum auctions to fund the transition to NG911 for our states and territories. A spectrum auction is a process whereby the federal government sells the rights to transmit signals over specific bands of the electromagnetic spectrum and to assign scarce spectrum resources.

This kind of innovative and forward-thinking advocacy can literally mean the difference between life and death for untold numbers of individuals across our nation, and for generations to come. Allow me to explain why.

As both a seasoned public-safety professional, a mother and a citizen of the U.S., my mission continues to be to help elevate the visibility of the current plight of the 911 industry, which includes higher call volume for increasingly extreme circumstances, and to bring awareness to the fact that current communications solutions have substantially outpaced the legacy communications technologies still used by most 911 systems across the country.

The last two years have taught me, and I am sure many of you, how precious life is and how important it is to have well-run, dedicated programming to provide help when it is needed. 911 is an essential piece in that puzzle, thus the collective transition to NG911 is a no brainer. It is imperative that this country’s 911 systems are built up to suit and even exceed our current societal needs. And to achieve that, our 911 systems need a major catapult in the form of updating, upgrading and evolving 911 infrastructure, our workforce, and the programs that help us answer emergency calls.

As you might imagine, this will be an expensive undertaking. The industry and its stakeholders have been successful in developing a nationwide NG911 implementation plan as well as a comprehensive study on how much this overhaul will cost.

Chairwoman Rosenworcel’s proposal to use proceeds from future spectrum auctions is the solution to that hindrance. As our municipalities grapple with economic recovery from the devastation of the last two years, a new funding source like this will allow local governments to collectively receive the infusion of resources needed to overhaul their 911 programs, without increasing 911 fees for our residents who are already struggling to make ends meet.

Simply put, 911 call-takers and dispatchers having the right tools to handle calls for help in every single community across our nation is worth every penny. Now is the time for us to act to ensure that 911 can catch up technologically and programmatically. We owe it to ourselves and to future generations.


Karima Holmes is a public-safety communications subject matter expert and homeland security and emergency management executive. Holmes has served as director in multiple 911 centers across the country. She currently serves as the director of a major metropolitan emergency communication center.



 
 
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Comments
On 5/23/22, Scott Holmes said:
An idea and method that s is long overdue


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