Opinion

Protect 911 funding | GUEST OP

By Lora Ueland
Executive director, Valley Communications Center

This past legislative session, the Senate 2013-15 operating budget proposed diverting more than $15 million in 911 revenue to fund non-911-related programs. This proposed fund sweep could not only result in the loss of federal funding, but also could delay the implementation of "Next Generation" 911 by several years.

The majority of funding for 911 is generated through a 911 excise tax. This excise tax appears as a 95-cent line item charge on your monthly phone bill. It is paid by land line and wireless users. This funding is used to process the 5,900,000 annual calls local 911 centers handle on a yearly basis.

Washington State 911 has just begun to implement Next Generation 911 with the placement of a new, digitally capable network. Implementation of some technological aspects of this network remains to be finished. Despite these great strides, no 911 center in the state can currently accept digital data or text messages.

Old call processing equipment cannot keep up with modern technology, and therefore, is unable to provide comparable service for emerging communications devices and is not capable of processing widely used data such as text messaging, pictures, video or telematics from vehicles.

The technology and standards exist today to complete the upgrade of the Washington State E911 network with a "Next Generation" (NG) solution that will route 911 calls over an IP-based network (ESInet).

A complete IP-based network will allow for the delivery of the additional data necessary for an effective public safety response system. This network will improve call setup times and increase the speed at which voice and data arrive at the PSAP, and with additional improvements, will allow people who are deaf or speech impaired to directly communicate with 911 via text messaging, thereby saving lives.

The 911 community has begun the transition to the NG solution, but until the transition is complete Washington citizens will not see the full benefits of this modern technology.

We must ensure that Washington state can meet the standards for service delivery under development as the nation moves forward with an NG911 solution. 911 authorities must ensure that every Washington resident and visitor is able to access 911 utilizing multimedia sources to receive the best quality 911 service.

Our legislators, governor, voice and data service providers and public safety agencies must all work together to ensure we have an appropriate funding solution that will support the modernization of our E911 system and that will continue to serve all citizens within Washington state.

While we understand the difficult economic times we face, utilizing 911 excise taxes for non-911 purposes erodes public trust in state and local government and delays the ability to update E9-1-1 systems in Washington state.

As the Legislature prepares for their upcoming special session, we strongly urge our legislators to do the right thing: leave the 911 fund intact.

Reach Lora Ueland, executive director of the Valley Communications Center, at 253-372-1300.

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