911 fee diversion is the scourge of the public safety industry. It is an issue that the Federal Communications Commission Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau (PSHSB) has been tracking for more than a decade. Initially, just getting the data was problematic, with 20% of the states diverting funds in the early years.
In the latest, and 11th report, the number of the states diverting has been reduced to just 10%. Still, some are habitual offenders (such as the State of New York) who has reported 911 fee diversions in all 11 of the reporting years, and New Jersey who has habitually diverted 911 funds for the past 6 years.
Most importantly, don’t let the decreasing number of states diverting fool you. While the number of States diverting did improve with Montana showing up on the list in 2018, and then coming back into compliance for 2019, the dollar value of diverted funds has made a sharp increase. While the 2018 total diversion was reported at more than $78,800,000.00, that number made a significant jump (nearly 238%) to just over $187,000,000.00 in 2019. That makes a 48 Month total diversion total of nearly $268,000,000.00, over a quarter BILLION dollars.
Congress, through the Middle-Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, requested a Next Generation 911 Cost Estimate to serve as an important resource for legislators to utilize while considering the creation of coordinated, long-term funding mechanisms that would facilitate the deployment and operation of a national NG911 service.
The National 911 Program run under DOT and located on the web at http://911.gov, provides federal leadership and coordination in supporting and promoting optimal 911 services. Known as the official Federal “home” for 911, the program plays a critical role by coordinating federal efforts that support 911 services across the nation. After a two-year research program examining NG911 by a team of experts; and along with input directly from individuals in the emergency communications community, they delivered a report that estimated that the cost will be somewhere between $9.5 and $12.7 billion over the next ten years for a total project that would expand Next Generation 911 (NG911) capabilities to all 911 call centers in the U.S.
The estimated price tag would cover costs for not only the initial setup and migration to NG911 networks and systems but would also cover three different implementation scenarios and cost ranges for each of them. Their 2019 report Advancing 911 Across the Nation is available on the web at: https://www.911.gov/pdf/National_911_Program_Annual_Summary_2019.pdf
Clearly, the benefits of a NG911 national network are plentiful. Better resiliency, better efficiency, more meaningful data from intelligent devices initiating calls and events, and the entire infrastructure is built on modern IP networking infrastructure. Not only is that easier to maintain, it’s less expensive to operate, and spares are available “off the shelf”, while not carrying exceedingly high price tags due to their specialty. So the question remains, why do we seem to continuously delay the ultimate evolution? Clearly the technology model supports the transition, and now we’ve got several proof points that clearly show the financial model supports the transition.
It’s likely that we finally reached the tipping point where it is more expensive to keep the old network running, then it is to build and operate an entirely new infrastructure. Unfortunately, over the years, and upgrade strategies have always been to migrate from one technology to the next. With NG911, not only is that not feasible from a Technology perspective, it is physically not possible from an architectural perspective.
Even though the legacy networks are long since paid for and written off the books, carriers are used to wringing out every last penny before shipping them off to the scrap iron heap. They treat them like dear friends or even pets, and absolutely refuse to retire them. In addition to the equipment aging out with a limited number of spares available in the event of failures, interconnection is often legacy TDM based copper wires, and that infrastructure is becoming fragile and expensive to maintain. At some point, politics and policy need to be put aside, and we need to move forward for the good of the order. We have to stop playing ostrich, sticking our heads in the sand, and look to the future in the name of innovation, and broadband connectivity, that will ultimately enable next generation multimedia communications, including emergency communications. 2020 has been a challenging year, and one of much reflection. Let’s look back and reflect on public safety, bringing that industry once again on the forefront of innovation, from the side of the first responders in the field, to individuals originating emergency requests, as well as the FIRST 1st responders, our nation’s emergency telecommunications specialists, giving them the tools that they need, to do their job the best they possibly can, and from wherever that may need to be at any given point in time.
Tuesday, October 6, 2020: Additional Relevant Information:
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC or Commission) has released a Notice of Inquiry seeking comment on the effect of 911 fee diversion by states on the provision of 911 services and the transition to next generation 911. Previous Commission reports to Congress have shown that some states and territories have diverted portions of the funds collected for 911 to other purposes. For instance, between 2012 and 2018, the Commission found that states and jurisdictions have diverted over $1.275 billion in 911 fees to non-911 programs or to a general fund. The Commission asks for input on ways that 911 fee diversion can be discouraged.