MCP Insights

Broadband Could Be the Key to Unlocking Federal Funds for NG911 Implementations

Posted on November 30, 2021 by John Chiaramonte

It has been a few weeks since Congress reduced the amount of federal funding for Next Generation 911 (NG911) implementations in the Build Back Better Act — also known as the Budget Reconciliation Act —from $10 billion to $470 million. Also included is $20 million for administrative costs associated with the grant program that will disperse the money, $9 million to establish an NG911 cybersecurity center and $1 million for establishing an NG911 advisory board. The House passed this legislation on November 19 and it now goes to the Senate.

There seems to be a considerable amount of handwringing about what slashing NG911 funding by roughly 95 percent means for the future of this vital technology. That’s understandable. NG911 represents a quantum leap forward compared with legacy 911 systems — an apt analogy is that the former is an airplane while the latter is a horse and buggy.

Because they are broadband-enabled, NG911 systems offer the potential for leveraging a treasure trove of rich, actionable data that will enhance emergency response outcomes and keep emergency responders safer, beyond what is offered by today’s traditional voice-centric call-delivery network. They also greatly improve resiliency and redundancy, the ability to share resources and data regionally, and the ability to transfer operations seamlessly when an emergency communications center has been rendered inoperable, inaccessible, or uninhabitable by a disaster.

These all are unshakeable truths. Another is that while $470 million might sound like a lot of money, it isn’t going to be anywhere near enough to cover the cost of implementing NG911 service from coast to coast. But it is a start — in fact, it’s the most money by far ever authorized by Congress for NG911 implementations.

A Down Payment for NG911

On that note, I like what George Kelemen, iCERT’s new executive director, said about this: "The funding does represent a down payment for NG911."

While this level of NG911 funding falls far short of the 911 community’s hopes, I remain incredibly optimistic about the future of NG911. Also, U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) introduced standalone legislation in September that calls for $10 billion for NG911 implementations in the form of grant awards, with the money being available through September 2030. (It also sets aside $80 million for an NG911 cybersecurity center and $20 million for an NG911 advisory board.)

So, as the baseball hall-of-famer Yogi Berra once sagely opined, it isn’t over until it’s over.

Yet another reason for my optimism is that there does appear to be a significant amount of federal money that can be used for NG911 implementations — one just needs to know where to look. Let me explain.

Could Broadband Funding Be the Key?

The key to the search is the knowledge that NG911 is a broadband technology. Numerous federal grants already are in place, totaling more than $100 billion, for broadband infrastructure development, largely for rural and underserved markets. We believe that state-level chief information officers (CIOs) have wide latitude regarding the projects to which they can allocate these funds. We also fervently believe that NG911 implementations would qualify under the “broadband infrastructure development” umbrella.

It is reasonable to think that, as the national implements community broadband, that those projects set aside a certain portion of the infrastructure for public safety, specifically NG911 service. Here’s an analogy that I think illustrates the notion well. Let’s say that new a five-lane interstate is being built in Anytown, USA. Couldn’t we dedicate one of those lanes to ambulances and other emergency response vehicles? Wouldn’t it make sense to do so? The answers to those questions are a resounding “yes” and “yes.”

We think the 911 community immediately should enlist the aid of the National Association of State CIOs (NASCIO), National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), and National Governor’s Association (NGA) to lobby for allocation of at least some of the available federal grant money to implementations of broadband-enabled NG911 systems.

Resourceful people often are able to find the resources they need to make things happen. The 911 community can make this happen — let us know how we can help.

John Chiaramonte is president of MCP’s consulting business. He can be emailed at JohnChiaramonte@MissionCriticalPartners.com.

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