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Agencies urged to speed up Next-Generation 911 transition

Municipalities are being urged toward Next-Generation 911 as phone companies complete fiber optic cable transition, and Google Fiber's Webpass acquisition will make wireless broadband connections possible.

Next-Generation 911 on states, municipality upgrade lists

Many cities' emergency communication centers can't receive text messages, and most 911 systems can't tap into mobile features like location-based services -- essential for emergency systems, according to a recent report from The Pew Charitable Trusts. Users are familiar with Wi-Fi, location-based services and Bluetooth, and while texting is nearly ubiquitous, many emergency dispatchers don't yet have the technology to track emergency calls from cell phones or receive text messages, photos, videos and detailed location data.

Next-Generation 911 will allow emergency dispatchers to receive texts as well as voice calls and locate callers by using Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and geographic information systems. These capabilities are needed because 70% of all 911 calls are already made with wireless phones.

But as phone companies continue to install fiber optic cable and eliminate the use of copper wire, the transition to Next-Generation 911 (NG911) becomes more feasible only if state and municipal governments upgrade their 911 technology. By 2020, phone companies hope to see states and municipalities upgraded to IP networks that enable emergency dispatchers to send and receive data and information over the internet.

Only a few states and cities have adopted 911 texting, according to the Pew report, although Maine, Vermont, Iowa and Indiana have already transitioned to NG911, and seven other states are planning the upgrade. Phone companies want state and local governments to allocate enough funds for the upgrade. The estimated upgrade cost for major metropolitan governments is $5 million to $7 million.

Google Fiber acquires wireless provider Webpass

Through its recent acquisition of wireless broadband provider Webpass, Google Fiber will be able to offer high-speed, wireless broadband services, Multichannel News reported. The addition will not only speed up Google Fiber's deployment services but also reduce infrastructure costs.

For the past two years, Google Fiber has planned to install fiber optic cable in San Jose, Calif. Now due to its new point-to-point wireless capabilities, Google Fiber has postponed the cable installation and is considering its new alternatives, according to Ars Technica. Instead of relying on utility poles and laying cable, Google Fiber can now use Webpass antennas and receivers. The acquisition is expected to be complete this summer.

FCC chairman running out of time

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler has a list of major proposals he'd like the FCC to vote on and implement. But it's doubtful that Wheeler will be able to accomplish these projects, as the upcoming presidential election draws closer, Dow Jones Business News reported last week.

Wheeler has proposed three major changes for 2016: the removal of TV set-top boxes so users can have a cable box-free television experience on any device; tougher consumer privacy rules on cable and phone companies providing internet access; and updated business telecommunications service rules.

Wheeler's proposal to remove TV set-top boxes concerns both cable producers and TV content producers. Wheeler faces mixed support from the FCC and members of Congress, according to Dow Jones Business News. Furthermore, with a new president-elect comes the potential change of FCC chairman. Wheeler has yet to declare whether or not he will step down after the election.

Next Steps

Looking toward Next-Generation 911

How do fiber cables differ from copper cables?

Could new FCC consumer privacy rules damper innovation?

Google Fiber tests wireless broadband services

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To ensure a smooth NG911 transition, should municipalities be guaranteed funding to make the changes?
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