Max Denning

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Hood River) and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai recently visited Eastern Oregon to talk about the Next Generation 911 program, the Rural Health Care program and closing the digital divide in rural America. Walden also highlighted the recent passage of the Ray Baum’s Act.

Next Generation 911

T he Next Generation 911 program calls for a digital upgrade of current analog-based 911 programs. Walden said he is working with the FCC to get the Next Generation 911 program brought to rural areas. In 2012, congress passed $115 million in federal funds to help the country transition to Next Generation 911 systems. In a press release, Walden said he helped pass the act.

“I will continue to work to ensure this transition reaches rural Oregon,” Walden said in a press release.

The National 911 program’s website,, states: “The success and reliability of 911 will be greatly improved with the implementation of NG911 as it will enhance emergency number services to create a faster, more resilient system that allows voice, photos, videos and text messages to flow seamlessly from the public to the 911 network.”

Lola Lathrop, communications manager for the La Grande Police Department, said in an interview with The Observer that the Next Generation 911 program would be beneficial if installed in La Grande.

“The advantage of progress is no different here than it would be in any city,” Lathrop said.

She also said there has not been recent discussions about the program in La Grande.Walden said in the press release he’s working with the FCC to bring Next Generation 911 to rural areas in the state.

No 911 center in Oregon is currently fully Next Generation 911, as the technology incorporated with the program is “intended to replace current 911 services over time through a transitional approach,” said Cory Grogan, public information officer for the Oregon Office of Emergency Management in an interview with The Observer.

“However, with that said, as of early 2017, a new Internet Protocol network was deployed interconnecting all 43 Oregon Public Safety Answering Points in Oregon,” Grogan said. “Text-to-911 has been made available in nearly all statewide emergency communications service areas and approximately 90 percent of all Public Safety Answering Points call processing equipment is Next Generation 911 capable.”

Grogan said, cost-related information for counties and municipalities is unknown at this time. The estimate for implementing the foundational elements of Next Generation 911 is $15 million in Oregon and is currently unfunded.

Rural Health Care program

The Rural Health Care program is a program designed by the FCC and authorized by congress. In June, 2018, the funding cap for the program was raised to $570 million by the FCC.

See complete story in Friday's Observer