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Remarks of Assistant Secretary Redl at the NG911 Institute 16th Annual 911 Honor Awards

Remarks of David J. Redl
Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information
NG911 Institute 16th Annual 911 Honor Awards
Washington, D.C.
February 13, 2019

-- As Prepared for Delivery --

It’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you to Patrick Halley for inviting me to speak today, and congratulations to the outstanding honor awards recipients.

Tonight we are reminded of how much the public relies on 911 systems across the country. Young and old, rich and poor, when there’s an emergency Americans know that they can dial 911 and help will soon be on the way.

These days, our phones do a little more than make calls. Consumers are using their mobile devices to text, post, and video chat. There’s a reasonable expectation, I think, that the same tools we use to talk to friends and family can be used in an emergency.

The public safety community is also rapidly adopting advanced communications technologies, particularly since the implementation of the First Responder Network Authority, or FirstNet. Through this public-private partnership with AT&T, first responders and public safety professionals now have access to a dedicated wireless broadband network in order to send and receive the information that they need.

This is encouraging progress, but there’s a catch. Between the state-of-the-art technology in the hands of consumers, and the state-of-the-art technology in the hands of first responders, we have 911 call centers, the vast majority of which are stuck with analog, 1980s technology. 

They aren’t capable of receiving enhanced data from 911 callers, and they’re limited in their ability to forward critical information to first responders. This has to be fixed – it is time for public safety to be equipped with 21st century technology from end-to-end.

As we work to catch up our call centers, communications technology continues to evolve. America is on the brink of fifth-generation wireless network deployments, which among other benefits will allow consumers and Internet of Things devices to access high bandwidth, low latency wireless services. With our call centers stuck in the analog era, these advanced capabilities will become a lost opportunity. And it’s why any solution can’t be a one-time upgrade – we need a sustainable model for ensuring that our 911 call centers can evolve as technology changes. 

In our transition to NG911, key stakeholders across the public safety community, including those represented here today, must demonstrate continued commitment and action. The Department of Commerce stands ready to help. My agency is uniquely positioned and prepared to take a leading role in the acceleration of NG911.

We also have extensive experience with cybersecurity, which will need to be a renewed focus for PSAPs as they transition to advanced communications. NTIA can help develop technical best practices for cost effective NG911 deployment, and we have the programmatic expertise for developing and administering grant programs.

One such program is underway now. NTIA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are responsible for the joint 911 Implementation and Coordination Office, or ICO. Earlier this month, the ICO released preliminary funding allocations for our 911 grant program that will offer up to $110 million to help states, territories, tribal organizations and the District of Columbia upgrade their 911 call centers to NG911 capabilities.

Forty-four entities are now eligible to submit their applications for funding. Working with NHTSA, NTIA is committed to expediting the review of these applications to provide the funding to start addressing these much needed call center upgrades.

It’s important to note that applicants were deemed ineligible to apply if they had used funds designated for 911 systems for other purposes. The non-diversion requirement will remain in our grant program through the life of the grant. We simply can’t afford to divert any funds that should be going to critical call center improvements.

I’m excited that we’re making a start on modernizing our 911 call centers, but we’re going to need a lot more resources before these vital upgrades are installed nationwide. The 911 ICO office estimated in a study last year it will cost $9.5 billion to $12.7 billion during a 10-year period to transition U.S. PSAPs to IP-based NG911 technology.

It is clear there’s a lot of work to do, but there’s also much to look forward to. NG911 will create a faster, more resilient emergency system, with critical information flowing seamlessly from the public, through the 911 networks and eventually, directly to first responders.

NTIA is committed to modernizing our 911 call centers, and we welcome your partnership in this transition. Only with a shared vision of what our call center capabilities should be, and continued effort to make that vision a reality, will we fundamentally transform emergency response in America.