Document Type



Journal on Telecommunications & High Technology Law




Our nation's 9-1-1 system's success to date belies the fact that its core premises will not continue to serve it effectively and it has come to a critical juncture. In particular, the balkanized nature of 9-1-1 operations that differ across jurisdictions and are supported by Byzantine funding mechanisms obscure a simple but profound development: our nation's emergency system is not keeping up with or taking advantage of technological change. Because the system continues to work and policymakers largely do not appreciate the system's technological limitations, decision makers not only fail to focus on this challenge but instead are all too willing to raid 9-1-1 funds to put them to other uses. Accordingly, our emergency communications networks are unable to accommodate what is increasingly viewed as basic functionality inherent in many of today's advanced technologies.

This Article sets forth a coherent vision concerning the opportunity to transition to a next generation 9-1-1 network. To be sure, the United States' 9-1-1 system is hardly a monolith and prescriptions for its evolution cannot be reduced to simple one size fits all solutions. In practice, the system is comprised of numerous jurisdictions (including over 6000 Public Safety Answering Points); myriad governance structures and controls which vary across jurisdictions; a ballooning number of service providers; and a diversity of funding amounts and models that differ across jurisdictional boundaries. The result, not surprisingly, is a fractured and complicated system where policy is highly contingent on parochial and often political perspectives.

To reform today's balkanized 9-1-1 landscape, we recommend that: (1) clear leadership and vision embrace the need to transition the 9-1-1 system to a next generation architecture; (2) more effective state oversight provide both the funding and logistical support necessary to make this happen; and (3) localities should remain responsible for providing access to 9-1-1, but that they must be supported from higher levels of government as well as industry to exercise that responsibility. In short, there is an important opportunity for thoughtful leadership and vigilant policy reform that will serve the goals of 9-1-1 emergency response far more effectively than the policies currently in place.