Senate Democrats are gearing up to unveil a draft of the Next Generation 911 Act of 2017 and are eyeing ways to include 911 as part of the year's bigger infrastructure effort, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said Tuesday during an NG-911 tech showcase in Rayburn hosted by the NG-911 Institute. Klobuchar, a co-chair of the NG-911 Caucus, is working on legislation long promised by Senate Commerce Committee ranking member Bill Nelson, D-Fla. He first mentioned working on a NG-911 transition bill in September and told us he had hoped to introduce it by January (see 1612290031).
The act "makes the transition to next gen a national priority and sets a specific date for the goal of completing the transition," Klobuchar said. "It maintains the current 911 state and local government structure while providing assistance from the federal government." The legislation would provide billions of dollars of funding to the existing 911 grant program to assist states and localities with an eye toward upgrading, she said: "We're still discussing the appropriate level of funding but we've heard estimates that the transition to next gen will cost between $5 [billion] to $10 billion."
The proposal would include a condition to make sure funds are used effectively and "states would have to identify a single point of contact for 911 issues and develop a plan for the deployment of next-gen 911 services based on accredited, proprietary consensus standard," Klobuchar said. "These standards and commitments will make sure the 911 system will be able to accept voice, text, data and video and pass them on to first responders in a seamless way." The bill would "bolster and streamline the next-gen 911 implementation coordination office so that it can be an effective resource during transition" and provide aid so stakeholders can harden "next-gen systems against cyberattacks," she said.
"I am working with Senator Klobuchar on a Next Generation 9-1-1 bill that would give states and localities the resources they need to accelerate the ongoing deployment of the next generation of 9-1-1 services," Nelson told us in a statement. "We believe that should be a national priority. It is my hope that we will introduce and move this bill forward this spring." Nelson called 911 "critical, life-saving infrastructure." A spokesman for Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune, R-S.D., didn't comment. Klobuchar suggested at one point that a draft would be forthcoming immediately. "Sen. Nelson and I are putting out a draft, right, today?" she said, then heard from an aide that such a release may not happen yet.
911 officials were pleased. "I'm thrilled with what you're saying," National Emergency Number Association CEO Brian Fontes said during the event. "Now we have the job of ensuring this legislation actually becomes law." NG9-1-1 Institute Executive Director Patrick Halley called the remarks "excellent." A representative of the NG-911 Now Coalition, formed last year, mentioned the coalition's goal: "By the end of year 2020, all 911 systems and centers in all 56 states and territories will have sufficiently funded, standards based end to end IP based 911 capabilities ... without any degradation in service."
Klobuchar hopes to include location accuracy provisions, she said. "We need our technology to be as sophisticated as the people who are using it against us," she said, referring to the ability for first responders to incorporate photo and video and such technology as environmental sensors. "Simply connecting with first responders is not always enough to get the help you need," she said. "I think we all know this is an issue in multi-story buildings."
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai "continues to be a supporter of 'aggressive and achievable' goals to improve indoor accuracy, and that is why he supports the location accuracy framework we have established that puts us on a path to provide emergency responders with a 'dispatchable location' -- identification of the caller's address, floor, and office or apartment number -- the proverbial 'gold standard'" for indoor location accuracy, Zenji Nakazawa, acting public safety aide to Pai, told the 911 Goes to Washington meeting in prepared remarks dated Monday. The FCC should facilitate the transition to NG-911, but states and localities "must have the lead role in the deployment of NG911" in Pai's view, said Nakazawa. "Chairman Pai believes that the Commission can best serve in a complementary role working with state 911 authorities, its federal partners and other governing entities to provide technical expertise and to promote a coordinated, industry-led approach to NG911."
"Your biggest focus" should be "if any infrastructure bill starts moving, to make sure we are funding 911 as part of that and see that as part of our infrastructure," part of what Klobuchar and Nelson expect to discuss, she said. "I think we should be in good shape," she said of prospects in the Senate Commerce Committee, citing Nelson's assumption of a big role and Thune's representation of a rural state. Senate Commerce plans a hearing Wednesday on infrastructure, with an eye toward rural issues.
Other 911 issues remain on Klobuchar's radar, she said. She cited an ongoing push to revise the standard occupational classification to classify public safety telecommunicators as a protective service occupation. "The telecommunicators operate under intense pressure" and changing the classification would recognize them as an "integral part" of public safety, Klobuchar said. "They're working on an updated classification and we're going to keep advocating for that change." She also cited efforts to advance the Kari's Law Act, cleared by the Senate Commerce Committee in reintroduced form last month. "I don't think there's any reason to wait on this common-sense fix," she said. "I think we're going to get it done."