911 Modernization Bill Signed Into

"When Americans dial 911 in an emergency, they expect the call will go through, regardless of what phone they use," H.R. 3403's congressional sponsor, U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., said this week. Gordon, who chairs the House Science and Technology Committee, saw the bill signed into law yesterday by President Bush. The law will give Voice Over Internet Protocol, or VOIP, phone service providers direct access to the 911 system at the same rates, terms, and conditions as wireless phone providers. It authorizes VOIP service providers to provide customer location information to public safety answering points in an emergency.

Gordon said the law also extends existing state laws protecting 911 calls made using wireline and wireless phones to any service obligated by the FCC to provide 911 in the future and any service that coordinates local 911 authorities and voluntary 911 emergency services. "This ensures consumers don't compromise their safety when they use new technologies, like car-based 911 services and video and text services used by people with disabilities," said Gordon.

He said the U.S. 911 system "uses 30-year-old technology and is simply outdated." To that end, the law will require the National 911 Coordination Office to plan a move to an IP-based emergency response network and will allow 911 PSAP grants to be used for IP-based equipment. "The NET 911 Improvement Act will improve access to 911 for all Americans and help ensure that our nation's 911 system is able to keep up with advancements in communications technology," said National Emergency Numbering Association CEO Brian Fontes. "This legislation will save lives." Gordon had introduced his bill in August 2007, and it passed the House last November.

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