Act proposed to revise state 9-1-1 systems

Members of the County Judges’ Association of Arkansas (CJAA), State Senator Jason Rapert, and State Rep. Michelle Gray have announced their intent to file The Arkansas Public Safety Act of 2019. The bill is multi-pronged effort to effectively promote the welfare and safety of the residents of Arkansas, according to a Monday news release.

“The 2019 Arkansas Public Safety Act is a comprehensive bill to transform the state’s 9-1-1 system, expand broadband, and provide necessary updates to the Arkansas Wireless Information Network for the safety of Arkansans,” said Madison County Judge Frank Weaver, president of the CJAA.

Transformation of the state’s 9-1-1 network is at the heart of the proposal. It will shift the network from the current analog system to an internet protocol (IP)-based network that will allow for interoperability among all Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs).

A new protocol will allow callers to use wireless and IP-based devices to call 9-1-1 and transmit text, images, video, and data. These changes will make the network faster and more accurate.

The proposal also reorganizes the Emergency Telephone Services Board (ETSB) into the Arkansas 9-1-1 Board.

This board will work with Arkansas Department of Emergency Management (ADEM), and will be responsible for implementing and governing Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG911) on a statewide basis. The board will ensure a smooth shift to the new technology and set standards for PSAPs.

The bill will reduce the number of PSAPs in Arkansas. Consolidation of PSAPs will reduce the number of times a caller is transferred and create cost savings and efficiencies.

In 2016, counties and cities subsidized 9-1-1 by $25 million. This amount grows each year and is unsustainable. The Arkansas Public Safety Act will repeal three fees: local 9-1-1 tariffs, the Arkansas universal service charge, and the emergency telephone service charge. It will establish a uniform public safety connectivity charge of $2.25. Instituting a single, uniform charge of $2.25 will create an average decrease of 32 cents on landline phone bills and an average increase of 47 cents on mobile phone bills.

In addition, the public safety connectivity charge will generate $38 million in new funding to support the transformation of the 9-1-1 network ($18 million); to expand and maintain the state’s broadband infrastructure, assisting in the shift of 9-1-1 to Next Generation 9-1-1 ($8 million); and to fund upgrades and maintenance for the Arkansas Wireless Information Network (AWIN), which is the statewide public safety communication system for Arkansas’ first responders ($12 million).

Rapert said eliminating the “outdated fees” is an important step in the transformation of the 9-1-1 system.

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