December 21, 2010 - 3:17 pm
Jamie Barnett | Chief, Public Safety & Homeland Security Bureau

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:53:height=100,width=66]]Today, the Commission adopted a Notice of Inquiry which initiates a comprehensive proceeding to address how Next Generation 911 (NG911) can enable the public to obtain emergency assistance by means of advanced communications technologies beyond traditional voice-centric devices.  This represents the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau’s next step in implementing the recommendations of the National Broadband Plan.

In the telecommunications industry overall, competitive forces and technological innovation have ushered in an era of advanced Internet-Protocol (IP)-based devices and applications that have vastly enhanced the ability of the public to communicate and send and receive information.  Unfortunately, our legacy circuit-switched 911 system has been unable to accommodate the capabilities embedded in many of these advanced technologies, such as the ability to transmit and receive photos, text messages, and video.  However, we have begun a transition to NG911, a system which will bridge the gap between the current 911 system and the evolving technological environment.
   
This November, I had the chance to visit Arlington, Virginia’s state of the art 911 center, which is at the forefront of the move toward NG911.  With 70% of our nation’s 911 calls originating from mobile phones, the evolution of our 911 system to one which not only accepts, but welcomes, text and multimedia messages is crucial.  The advances in our NG911 system pave the way for first responders to attain maximum situational awareness of an emergency before stepping onto the scene.  Additionally, it allows consumers, who often rely on text and multimedia messaging, to feel comfortable in the fact that the 911 system is responsive to their unique needs in the new media environment. 

Furthermore, the switch to an IP-based system allows the 911 system to manage 911 calls dynamically.  Often, when a major disaster occurs, the 911 system becomes congested due to surges in emergency calls to the local answering point, resulting in dropped and blocked calls.  The NG911 system, by dynamically managing calls, will allow calls that are destined for particular answering points to be routed in an efficient and effective manner, preventing the congestion that often accompanies major emergencies.

Accordingly, today’s NOI seeks to gain a better understanding of how the gap between the capabilities of modern networks and devices and today’s 911 system can be bridged and on how to further the transition to IP-based communications capabilities for emergency communications and NG911.This NOI will move us closer to forming a new regulatory framework for NG911 that adapts to evolving public expectations in terms of the communications platforms the public would rely upon to request emergency services and ensures that our nation’s 911 system is at its most effective in the future.  The Bureau remains committed to ensuring that our nation’s 911 system serves the American people in the best possible manner.  This NOI furthers the process begun in the National Broadband Plan of ensuring that the transition to NG911 is effective and efficient and adapts to the changing communications environment.