NTIA on Next-Gen 911 Hot Seat

Part of what’s driving the search for more efficient ways the government can use spectrum, is the need to clear more of it for 5G, next-generation 911 and FirstNet use.

“We’re looking at all federal assets, to see where it’s more efficient to consolidate operations,” new NTIA Administrator David Redl told the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee on Tuesday. Noting that it’s “rare that we have a band that does not involve multiple agencies” using it, NTIA is tasked by the administration to clear more government spectrum for effective government and private use, Inside Towers reported.

It’s looking at all kinds of spectrum, including low-, mid- and high-band. Asked what spectrum might raise the most money at auction, Redl said factors like scarcity, international coordination and how fast incumbents can be cleared off a band, all contribute to that. What’s considered usable and valuable spectrum “seems to be evolving rapidly,” Redl said. “High-band spectrum was not considered prized a few years ago. Now, it is,” and the concept “is a moving target.”  

As 911 calls enter their 50th year, the urgency of next-generation 911 deployment is critical, said Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL); he asked how NTIA intends to combat the fact that some states divert the 911 fees they collect from consumer’s phone bills for uses other than 911.

Consumers can now dial 911 with advanced capabilities and FirstNet connects first responders, “however the call centers connecting the two haven’t been able to keep pace,” said Redl.

The majority of 911 calls come from wireless phones, yet the call centers were built for the wireline age. Both NTIA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will administer state grants for next-gen 911. They hope to have a $115 million grant program that states can apply for to update the call centers by year-end.

As for 911 fee diversion, Redl said states report every year on that issue. Shimkus noted the problem is states can report they’re not diverting the fees, and then do so after the reporting period is over. “If we find states that are gaming the system we can work with you,” Redl pledged.

by Leslie Stimson, Washington Bureau Chief, Inside Towers

March 8, 2018        


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