Dispatchers urge passage of stalled E-911 bill

An organization representing the nation’s public safety answering points wants the administration to support a bill that would help state and local governments upgrade their 911 services.

The Enhanced 911 Emergency Communications Act of 2003 (S1250) would, among other things, provide as much as $500 million a year in matching grants for equipment that would pinpoint the location of 911 calls made from cell phones.

Federal regulations require cellular carriers to make this service available, but according to the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials, only 20 percent of more than 7,000 PSAPs have equipment to use it.

The bill was reported out of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee in July but has not been brought up for a vote.

“We’re beginning to hear it is the administration that is stalling the bill,” said APCO spokeswoman Courtney McCarron. “There is really no one in the Senate who is against it. I think the big problem people are having is the big pot of money and where it’s going to come from.”

The White House did not respond to requests for comment on the issue. A spokesperson for the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), said the senator was optimistic about its passage.

“Right now the only thing keeping it hung up in the Senate is scheduling,” she said. “It’s on the calendar, but there are about 15 other things on the calendar.”

Another spokesperson said passage could take longer in an election year.

“I know there have been some concerns, not just in the administration but because the House version has different numbers,” and the two eventually will have to be reconciled.

The House version of the bill, passed in November, authorizes up to $100 million a year through fiscal 2008.

Enhanced 911 is a service that provides operators receiving emergency calls the location of the phone the call is coming from. This service is almost universal for wired phones, but carriers are only now implementing phase 2 technology to locate the growing number of cellular calls. Money is keeping many local police, fire and rescue services from getting the equipment they need.

In addition to funding up to half of a call center’s costs, the bill also would establish a task force of federal, state, local and industry officials to improve coordination of emergency communications between agencies, and would require states to certify that taxes and fees charged consumers for E911 services are being spent for that purpose.

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