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Request being made for increased 911 funding

In 2008 the West Fargo Police and Fire Departments discontinued providing local emergency communications services and joined the Red River Regional Dispatch Center. The center provides emergency dispatch service to all of Cass and Clay Counties. The move was based in part upon the increased costs associated with the rapidly evolving technology industry and the need to update the system that was in place in West Fargo at the time. This same consolidation of services has occurred in other parts of North Dakota and across the nation.

Funding for 911 emergency communications services has largely been covered by fees attached to telephone services. The collected funds are directed back to the local body of government and earmarked by law to pay the costs of providing emergency communications services. West Fargo's portion of the Red River Regional Dispatch Center's budget for 2011 was $292,000. In 2012 the amount went to $390,928 and in 2013 it will be $392,928. The increases relate to computer equipment and program upgrades and maintenance of the systems.

Byron Sieber, Director of the Red River Regional Dispatch Center, indicates, "Even with the great cost savings occurring in the consolidated dispatch center, current 911 fees do not cover the entire cost of running the 911 center and its entire infrastructure. As digital phone technology continues to evolve, customer expectations and needs will rise tremendously thus creating a need to acquire more advanced software and hardware. Planned obsolescence by vendors of current hardware and software will require the replacement over time of much of the infrastructure that has been in use for many years. As the regional population has increased over the past ten years the staffing levels to handle the increasing volume of calls has remained stagnant. As the public continues to end their home phone service in favor of cell phones more advanced technology will be needed to identify callers and their locations. This is critical in order to know where to send Fire, Law Enforcement, and EMS first responders."

The current fee assessed each telephone service or a wireless service subscriber in West Fargo is $1. Of the money collected the telephone service provider is allowed to retain five cents for each fifty cents collected to offset the company's administrative fees. In 2011 the City of West Fargo received $250,175.67. As of October 2012 the City received $227,765.44. The short falls in funding dedicated to providing West Fargo's emergency communications services must be taken from the City's general fund. It is for that reason a measure has been added to the November ballot asking voters to allow the City to increase the amount of fee collected from the current $1 to $1.50. The projected increase in funds collected will cover the current costs associated with providing emergency communications services to the citizens of West Fargo and reduce the drawing of funds from the general budget.

Additional information about the future of 911 services from the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) is provided:

The nationwide 911 system enables the public to place voice calls requesting emergency assistance. This is an important and reliable service that saves lives, but it has serious limitations. The "voice-centric" legacy 911 system does not support more diverse technologies such as text messaging and streaming video, which Americans increasingly rely on to communicate. A nationwide Next Generation 911 (NG911) network will bridge this gap by providing the technical capability for Americans to contact public safety authorities using the advanced telecommunications platforms of today and tomorrow. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC or Commission) is dedicated to working closely with all stakeholders to ensure a smooth and cost-effective transition to NG911.

To remain effective, the nation's 911 system must evolve to accommodate the ways people communicate. Although broadband technologies are now central to how Americans communicate, a number of the public safety answering points (PSAPs) or 911 call centers that handle 911 calls still lack broadband connectivity to a service provider network, which is necessary to support the evolution to NG911. Providing this connectivity on a nationwide scale will require substantial funding. This White Paper presents two models for achieving the required connectivity, the second of which envisions a more cost-effective deployment.

NG911 will capitalize on advances in consumer-based electronics technology to provide a more flexible and robust 911 interface that will improve the speed, accuracy, and preparedness of emergency response. The legacy, circuit-switched model for routing 911 calls and conveying corresponding location information is increasingly obsolete and poorly suited for an environment where non-traditional voice and data communications content proliferates. When a wireless or VoIP user places a 911 call on a legacy network, the service provider handles the call with a complex system of routing, re-routing, and look-up designed to emulate the legacy technology. NG911 networks are able to take advantage of the benefits of IP-based wireless and wireline networks to route calls faster and more efficiently. Similarly, the available mission-critical data capabilities and features can provide first responders an advantage in responding to emergencies. NG911 capitalizes on these new platforms to overcome problems inherent in the legacy system and to take advantage of IP-based telecommunications' superior bandwidth; accuracy; and flexibility in transmitting audio, video, text and data in a variety of formats.

Instead of relying on standard wireline voice communications with legacy telephone switching, the NG911 system uses digital, packet-switched IP data and voice communications. When a user places a call in a NG911 system, it uses a standardized set of IP-based technologies and applications to route the call through Internet traffic, providing intelligent routing, location information, and call signaling. Emergency calls are delivered to an Emergency Services Internet Protocol Network (ESInet),3 which can receive calls from a variety of different networks and types of networks. The ESInet then forwards the call to the appropriate PSAP. The flexibility of NG911 networks allows them to accommodate call handling by multiple entities4 seamlessly, while allowing network service providers to dynamically route calls around congested networks and enabling PSAPs to manage call volume more efficiently. Finally, the transition to NG911 will introduce cost-efficiencies.

Overall, NG911 networks are far more versatile than legacy 911 networks. They support voice as well as data, including streaming video, still images, and text. This flexibility in turn allows NG911 networks to accept and deliver traffic from a wide array of possible end-user devices. While a legacy 911 network can receive only voice calls, an NG911 network can accept video from a smartphone camera, voice over the voice network, VoIP transmitted voice calls over a 3G or 4G network, or data sent by applications installed on the phone. Where legacy 911 systems are built on the assumption that a call is placed from a fixed point corresponding to a landline telephone, NG911 networks can effectively and efficiently route traffic from mobile user devices and fixed-location devices. NG911 also has the potential to enhance the ability of PSAPs and first responders to assess and respond to emergencies based on the texts, photos, and videos that consumers send to them, combined with information they gather and correlate from other sources and databases.

Excerpts from: A Next Generation 911 Cost Study: A Basis for Public Funding Essential to Bringing a Nationwide Next Generation 911 Network to America's Communications Users and First Responders