WASHINGTON, D.C.—Describing the current adoption of next-generation 911 (NG911) as “too slow and too ragged,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler yesterday called on Congress to accelerate the process by approving legislation that provides support in the key areas of funding, mapping and cybersecurity.  

In recent years, the FCC has focused considerable attention on 911, including actions that are designed to bolster the rollout of text-to-911 service, improve the accuracy of location data associated with wireless 911 calls, and ensure that 911 systems function reliably, Wheeler said during a speech delivered at the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) 2015 show.

“We have made it clear that we will not tolerate 911 failure,” Wheeler said. “The switch to digital networks has changed the nature of providing 911 services, and that’s good. But it can’t result in outages caused by growing pains. In the last four months, we have issued almost $40 million in penalties for outages that left millions of consumers unable to reach 911 for hours at a time. 

“I cannot imagine a more harrowing experience than desperately needing to call 911 because a loved one needs medical attention, only to pick up the phone and hear … nothing. Americans won’t stand for it, and we stand with them.”

With this in mind, Wheeler highlighted some of the early work of the FCC’s Task Force on Optimal PSAP Architecture (TFOPA), which later this year plans to establish key guidelines and best practices for PSAPs migrating to NG911.

But most of Wheeler’s speech focused on the transition from legacy 911 to NG911. Although Wheeler applauded APCO and some state and local leaders for their effort, he noted that “I think everyone will agree we are not where we need to be.”

Given the fact that many public-safety answering points (PSAPs) have difficulties providing 911 service on their legacy networks, the notion of finding the resources to operate an NG911 system and a legacy network simultaneously is a challenge, Wheeler said. But it is a challenge that needs to be met.

“Maintaining two infrastructures increases cost and complexity at a time when our public-safety resources are already stretched razor thin,” Wheeler said. “But it’s not a unique experience. Throughout our communications infrastructure, this is being done—and done successfully.

“So, let me be clear:  just because the slow implementation of Next-Generation 911 is understandable does not make it excusable. Today’s fractured implementation of 911 and NG911 capabilities leaves Americans confused and at greater risk. Lives are at stake. We have to do better.”