A proposal for the 2019 Arkansas Public Safety Act bill was announced during a news conference at the Arkansas state Capitol on February 4. Madison County’s County Judge Frank Weaver said the bill’s purpose is to upgrade Arkansas’ 911 system from analog to wireless, expand broadband, and update the Arkansas Wireless Information Network (AWIN), the Arkansas Democrat Gazette reported.
The state provided 911 services with $25 million in 2016, and this bill will help lower that “unsustainable” amount, according to communications director for the Association of Arkansas Counties, Christy L. Smith.
She said the proposal “will repeal three fees: local 911 tariffs, the Arkansas universal service charge, and the emergency telephone service charge.”
The measure contains a uniform public safety connectivity fee of $2.25, which will on average decrease landline phone bills by 32 cents, and increase mobile phone bills by 47 cents. $38 million in funding is expected to come from the connectivity charge, and it will support the new 911 network ($18 million), statewide broadband expansion, the implementation of Next Generation 911 ($8 million), and upgrades for the AWIN ($12 million).
According to the County Judges Association of Arkansas, the bill will allow callers to use devices connected to the internet and wireless cell phones to call 911, as well as send texts, images, and video. The executive director of the Arkansas Sheriffs’ Association, Scott Bradley, said the current analog system uses the nearest tower to a caller to direct calls, and often sends a caller to the wrong dispatch center.
The upgraded system would directly use a caller’s device to determine their location, and according to Smith, “make the network faster and more accurate.” The bill will save the state money by reducing the amount of times a caller is transferred, requiring less “public safety answering points,” the Gazette reported.
The proposal would also merge the Emergency Telephone Services Board with the Arkansas 911 Board, and together with the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management they will oversee the rollout of “Next Generation 911” for the entire state. State Representative Keith Slape, (R-Compton), and Governor Asa Hutchinson, support the legislation. Hutchinson said, “Two of my priorities are the reform of our inefficient and costly 911 system and the modernization of our AWIN public safety communications assets. This bill addresses both public safety priorities.”
February 7, 2019