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U.S. Increases Loans to Improve Rural 9-1-1 Systems

Enable local users to send cell phone photos or short videos of a crime scene or accident location to 9-1-1 call centers

The U.S. government is increasing loans and loan guarantees to fund improvements to rural 9-1-1 systems that would enable local users to send cell phone photos or short videos of a crime scene or accident location to 9-1-1 call centers.

On March 16, 2012, the U.S. Department of Agriculture posted a final rule on the Federal Register—Expansion of 9-1-1 Access Loans and Loan Guarantees—providing details on the Rural Utilities Service’s (RUS) “authority to make loans in five areas of eligibility to expand or improve 9-1-1 access and integrated emergency communications systems in rural areas for the Telecommunications Loan Program.” The five areas of eligibility are:

— 9-1-1 access

— Integrated interoperable emergency communications, including multiuse networks that provide commercial or transportation information services in addition to emergency communications services;

— Homeland security communications

— Transportation safety communications

— Location technologies used outside an urbanized area

“By giving clear loan authority to the agency, RUS would have the tools to leverage public and private resources to speed the rural deployment of a dual-use public safety/commercial wireless network, address homeland security communications needs along America’s rural international borders; finance enhanced 9-1-1 capabilities for carriers and communities to precisely locate a rural wireless call to 9-1-1 or to finance next-gen 9-1-1 upgrades which would allow citizens to contact 9-1-1 via text message or send to emergency responders cell phone photos or short videos of a crime scene or accident location,” the notice says.

In addition, “E-9-1-1 location accuracy requirements pose unique challenges for rural wireless carriers.”

Without the loan authority, the “RUS would be very limited in its ability to make financing available to address specific rural emergency communications needs,” and the RUS would be prohibited “from financing municipal investments,” the notice says. “The new authority would give the agency clear authority to finance wireless upgrades that relate to public safety and security, even if it does not finance the entire wireless communications systems,” it says.

The RUS says it shares the assessments of the U.S. Congress, state and local officials, industry representatives and rural residents that broadband service is a critical component to the future of rural America and modern emergency communications capabilities are critical to the safety and security of all Americans. Therefore, the RUS says it “is committed to ensuring that rural America will have access to affordable, reliable, telecommunications and broadband services and to provide a healthy, safe and prosperous place to live and work.”