Loan funds for E911 included in farm bill

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WASHINGTON-The chairs of the E911 Congressional Caucus, Sens. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), have amended the agricultural spending bill to include money for a loan program aimed at deploying wireless enhanced 911 technology.

“The Burns-Clinton appropriation is a valuable tool in improving our nation’s 911 service in rural America. Far too often we hear that rural telecommunications providers cannot afford to implement E911 service for lack of sufficient funding. This provision promotes a powerful financial and life-saving partnership between the Rural Utilities Service and 911,” said Richard Taylor, president of the National Emergency Number Association and executive director of the North Carolina Wireless E911 Board.

The language included in the Agricultural Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2004 would allow RUS-a unit of the Department of Agriculture-to create a loan program to deploy E911 service in rural areas using surplus-known officially as unobligated-funds.

“The opportunities are endless,” said Greg Rohde, executive director of E911 Institute. “This is an exciting opportunity, particularly for rural wireless carriers.”

The loan program was created by an unrecognized provision included in last year’s Farm Bill.

“The secretary may make telephone loans to borrowers of loans made by the Rural Utilities Service, state or local governments, Indian tribes, or other public entities for facilities and equipment to expand or improve 911 access and integrated emergency communications systems in rural areas. There are authorized to be appropriated such sums as are necessary to carry out this section for each of fiscal years 2002 through 2007,” reads the Farm Bill provision.

Rural carriers have complained that they do not have the subscriber base to absorb the costs of deploying E911 technologies.

“The root of the challenge in rural areas is cost,” said Rohde. “This takes care of that part of the equation.”

But Rohde believes it is not just rural carriers that would be eligible for the loan program. The provision is so open-ended that both nationwide carriers and public-safety answering points could apply for loans.

The big push for this money could come this week when congressional appropriators sit down to meld together the final version of the agricultural spending bill. A conference committee is tentatively scheduled for Tuesday.

Whether the House will agree to fund the E911 program is unclear. The House has resisted-based on Bush administration views-to fund a rural broadband loan program that wireless Internet service providers hope to tap into.

The Burns-Clinton amendment is separate from their E911 bill, which creates a $500 million annual grant program and is still waiting for action by the full Senate.

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