Congress decimates 911’s digital upgrade

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After Democrats cut proposed funding for a digital transition to their social spending bill, public safety officials fear the nation’s 911 centers will continue to deteriorate in the analog era.

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why it matters: The potentially life-saving potential for people to send text, pictures or videos to 911 centers and for the centers to share data with each other is out of reach for many of the country’s 6,000 centers.

What are you saying: The House Energy and Commerce Committee pushed a proposal that would have spent $10 billion on next-generation 911 centers in September, but cut that funding to $470 million for deployment in the final House version of the Build Back Better Act had gone.

  • a cost report Congress estimated it would take about $12 billion to implement the network nationwide on the next-generation 911 from 2018, although advocates say $15 billion may be needed.
  • NENA: The 911 Association CEO Brian Fontes told Nerdshala, “I’m disappointed to say, to put it mildly.” “It’s extraordinarily unfortunate.”
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how it works: Next-generation 911 will allow centers to accept multimedia from those in need and allow centers to easily share data among themselves to ensure the best response.

  • For example, a smartwatch wearing a heart attack could send a 911 alert, said Capt. Mel Meier of the Oakland County, Michigan, sheriff’s office, who chairs the Public Safety Next Generation 911 Coalition.
  • “We have people in closets because they’re hiding from domestic violence” incident text 911, Maier said. And because this is not a community that their 911 center serves, they said they had to relay that information by phone to another emergency response center that may not accept texts.
  • Roughly 3,000 911 centers may receive text messages, according to a FCC Report,

Intrigue: Sources told Nerdshala that the proposed $10 billion cut in Build Back Better funding was made as part of talks with the Senate.

  • “I know there are a lot of voices out there looking for money, but it is about the safety and security of the general public,” Jeff Cohen, chief counsel and director of government relations for pubic safety association APCO International, told Nerdshala. “The fact that they can’t send multimedia content to 911 is outrageous.”
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What are they saying: House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pellone (DNJ) told Nerdshala in a statement that he fought for funding levels close to $10 billion during the talks, and will continue to seek additional funding.

  • “Investing Build Back Better Make in Next Gen 9-1-1 should be celebrated as an important first step — but only the first step,” said Pallon.

Between the lines: Funding for the next generation of 911s and public safety is one Bipartisan issue that culminated in a partisan spending bill.

  • Congress previously authorized $115 million for reform in 2012, but not enough for a full transition.

What will happen next: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D.N.Y.) said senators would act “as quickly as possible” to pick up the Build Back Better legislation once the House is passed.

  • Public safety advocates are pressing the Senate to increase funding, but acknowledge the prospects are bleak.
  • If approved, $470 million could be used for pilot programs or for some states to upgrade existing capabilities. But this will lead to uneven levels of service.
  • “If we don’t fund this, we’ll be a thriving nation and that’s the last thing, especially when it comes to the 911 we need,” Fontes told Nerdshala.

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