Last week the 911 community received some bad news.
The House recommended just $500 million for Next Generation 911 implementations, a fraction of the $10 billion that it originally recommended. (See the Urgent Communications story.)
We know that $500 million isn’t going to stretch very far. We also know that the $10 billion is right in line with the Next Generation 911 Cost Study that Congress requested in 2012. Three years ago, the National 911 Program published the Cost Study, with support from Mission Critical Partners. Congress had requested a comprehensive investigation into the cost of deploying NG911 service nationwide. It did so in the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 — the same legislation that authorized the nationwide public safety broadband network (NPSBN) being implemented under the auspices of the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) and provided $7 billion in seed money.The NG911 Cost Study identified a range of $9.6 billion to $12.7 billion that would be needed to implement NG911 systems across the country. Thus, the $10 billion identified by the House is in alignment.
If the House was well aware of this — surely its members, or at least their staffs, have seen the Cost Study — why did it take this action? The answer is relatively simple — there always is a good bit of negotiating that is done during the budget process, and many initiatives are cut to make the numbers work — even projects that seemingly have great merit, like advancing NG911 service. The $10 billion earmarked for NG911 likely appeared as a giant piece of low-hanging fruit that was too tempting.
However, a corollary issue that carries significant weight is that many members of Congress don’t understand the need. They look at the legacy 911 system and see that it saves lives every day, just as it has done since it first was implemented in 1968. Through their eyes, the system doesn’t appear to be broken.
But everyone in the 911 community — including every vendor and consultant that serves the community — knows better. NG911 represents a quantum leap forward compared with the legacy system.
So how does the 911 community get Congress to understand this essential truth?
The answer can be found by revisiting fairly recent history — and that’s where the proverbial silver lining can be found. Recall that when the notion of the NPSBN first was floated, Congress couldn’t see the need. It balked at providing several billion dollars in seed money, not to mention 10 megahertz of prime broadband radio spectrum that would have generated billions of dollars for the treasury if it had been auctioned — which was Congress’s intention.
But the public safety community rose up and started to speak with a single voice. And it wasn’t just its major trade associations — rather, an impressive grassroots effort was spawned that carried the message. It took a few years, but Congress eventually saw the light, and FirstNet and its network were born.
It will work the same way for NG911 — eventually. But organizations like the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO), and the National Association of State 911 Administrators (NASNA), which have been lobbying hard for NG911, need the help of every member of the 911 community. Make your voice loudly heard. Reach out to your representatives. Help them understand that NG911 no longer falls under the “nice to do” umbrella.
It has been said that it takes a village to raise a child. Well, it’s going to take a community to make NG911 service ubiquitous from coast to coast. Let us know how we can help.
Darrin Reilly is MCP’s president and CEO. He can be emailed at DarrinReilly@MissionCriticalPartners.com.