At an event marking the 10th anniversary of the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chair Jessica Rosenworcel proposed a plan for the Federal government to move forward on the next generation of 911 services.

“With FirstNet we are remaking our first responder networks for the digital age. Now I think we need a plan to remake our 911 systems for the digital age, too,” Rosenworcel said. “After all, a public safety network is only as powerful as the networks that allow all of us to reach emergency services in the first place. And let’s face it, our 911 systems need an upgrade. There are more than 6,000 911 call centers across the country and many of them are using legacy technology built for an era when calls in crisis came strictly from landline phones.”

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The FCC explained its vision for next generation 911 services in a press release, saying it means better support for voice, text, data, and video communications. For those who call 911, it will mean the opportunity to offer real-time video of the emergency. With modernized systems, first responders will be able to access instantaneous pictures. Additionally, new 911 services will bring about the ability to transmit a patient’s medical records right to 911 dispatchers.

However, investing in next generation 911 services will be an expensive endeavor, Rosenworcel said.

“These kinds of 911 investments don’t come cheap. And for the thousands of communities across the country that have to do these upgrades, it’s not clear where the support to make them will come from,” Rosenworcel explained.

In her remarks, Rosenworcel called on Congress to pass legislation that will dedicate proceeds from upcoming spectrum auctions toward a nationwide investment in digital, next generation 911 services. During the event, Rosenworcel explained that in 2012, Congress gave the FCC authority to use a spectrum auction to help bring more spectrum into commercial wireless markets.

“The spectrum auction that we held in the 600 MHz band took full advantage of this authority – but then did one better. Because after auctioning the public airwaves we set aside the revenue raised for public safety,” she said.

This initial auction, which raised $7 billion in revenue, was the seed funding for FirstNet. Rosenworcel said “it’s time to do something similar for 911.” In the past, 911 systems have been funded and updated via fees on bills and a mix of town, county, and state funding measures. However, Rosenworcel said “as with first responder communications, it’s time for a nationwide, digital upgrade. This is a generational change that needs billions in broader support.”

To that end, Rosenworcel called on Congress to develop legislation to extend the FCC’s authority to auction spectrum, which is set to expire on Sept. 30, 2022, so the FCC can continue to offer airwaves for new commercial uses.

“Once again, we would be using the auction of public airwaves to support public safety. And the funds would flow to every state and jurisdiction with 911 call centers to help make next-generation 911 a reality nationwide. Think of it this way: This is next-generation spectrum for next-generation 911. I think this is a golden opportunity,” she said.

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs