NG 911 passes despite alarm industry concerns

Language in bill unchanged, but AICC says work with NENA will protect central stations
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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

VIENNA, Va.—A provision to establish Next Generation 911 became law Feb. 22 as part of the payroll tax bill, including language the alarm industry feared might allow unverified PERS calls to stream into PSAPs. But agreements have been reached that will prevent the measure from having a negative impact on central stations, according to the Alarm Industry Communications Committee.

The AICC had been lobbying members of Congress since December to change H.R. 3630—the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act—to prevent the possibility that unverified "nonhuman-initiated automatic event alerts" might be sent directly to 911 centers. The AICC stressed that while it supported the NG 911 initiative to modernize the public safety network, it believed the language posed a threat to the industry.

The reaction led Congress to ask members of the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), which had previously recommended that few restrictions be placed on NG 911 equipment, to work with the AICC on a solution. The two groups met and agreed on revised language, but there wasn't enough time to get it written into the bill, according to AICC Chairman Lou Fiore.

"They're 100 percent with us," Fiore said of NENA. "They understand our concerns. As we were saying the words, they were saying 'That's terrible, we can't let that happen.' But it was just too late to get the language in the bill."

The legislation authorizes a limited number of NG 911 demonstration projects that will be funded through a grant program. It does not authorize the Federal Communications Commission to allow unverified automated calls to go directly to PSAPs, according to a statement from the AICC.

"The bill is just a steppingstone," Fiore said. "These grants have to be put out and when they write the actual grant language, NENA and the CSAA (Central Station Alarm Association) will walk in lock step to make sure the right language is in there."

The AICC said it also received commitments of support from “congressional telecommunications legislators and their staff. … All of them have agreed to help the AICC when the grants are issued, and to help with the FCC on an ongoing basis.”

To help pay for the grant program, the FCC will auction the “T band” of the frequency spectrum that runs from 470 to 512 megahertz (MHz). The commission will also reallocate the “D block” spectrum—from 758 to 763 MHz and 788 to 793 MHz—for use in the public safety network.

The AICC led a lobbying effort last year that resulted in Congress withdrawing a proposal that would have included frequencies from 450 to 470 MHz in the FCC auction. Those frequencies are used by the alarm industry to transmit signals from protected premises to central stations.

“[The auction] doesn’t look like it’s going to affect us at all,” Fiore said. “Our frequencies are below the ‘T band,’ so it looks like we’re absolutely in the clear. We’ve been fighting hard to make sure that we weren’t involved, and we’re not.”

Fiore said that as the NG 911 grant process moves forward, it will be important for the alarm industry to have a strong working relationship with NENA.

“NENA is going to be involved and the FCC is going to be involved in actually executing this,” he said. “I had a conversation with [NENA] and basically said we’ve got to work together better. We have this wonderful association with APCO [the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials] and all these other groups. … We agreed [with NENA] that we would work together going forward, and I invited them to the next AICC meeting to make a presentation.”