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FCC Commissioner Offers Proposals to Combat State 9-1-1 Fund Raiding

Date: 2017-03-27
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“It is unconscionable that some states divert fees collected for legitimate and needed 9-1-1 communications capabilities to unrelated purposes, threatening the public's safety for short-term budget relief,” said FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly in blog post regarding 9-1-1 fee diversion. In highlighting some key findings from the FCC’s Annual Report on 911 Fee Diversion, Commissioner O’Rielly called it a “vexing problem to solve.

“Despite the intended purpose of 9-1-1 fees,” Commissi oner O’Rielly wrote, “some states have diverted these resources to non-related or, worse yet, non-public safety purposes.  In fact, the Commission's report highlights that eight states and one territory diverted almost $220.3 million from 9-1-1 functions. These states (i.e., Illinois, Iowa, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Washington, West Virginia,) and Puerto Rico were found to have diverted approximately 8.4 percent of the total nationwide collections.  Upon closer inspection, however, the actual story is much worse for residents in those states and surrounding areas. Consider that the diversion rates in New York, Rhode Island, and New Jersey were 42 percent, 68.4 percent and 89.9 percent, respectively.  Far from being de minimis amounts, these substantial redistributions undermine the ability of local public safety emergency call centers to modernize, such as adopting and migrating to Next Generation 9-1-1 systems.”

The Commissioner offered some potential remedies to address the issue, such as barring diverting states from imposing 9-1-1 fees on the interstate calls, preventing communications providers from including misrepresentations or inaccurate information in requisite consumer bills, and exclude any person from a diverting state from participating on a Commission Advisory Committee, all of which are in the FCC’s authority to mandate.  “As part of this effort,” Commissioner O’Rielly added, “the Commission could also define what are inappropriate uses of 9-1-1 funds and ensure providers are held harmless in the process. In addition to Commission options, Congress has full ability to correct diverting states' practices either by directly applying existing law or by exerting necessary leverage via its extensive grants and funding regimes.”

The Commissioner concluded his blog with this: “If diverting 9-1-1 fees were a practice instituted by a private company, the Commission (and states) would have already thrown the enforcement book at them for gross negligence and misrepresentation.  Yet, we somehow have permitted states to divert necessary 9-1-1 resources or collect more than is necessary as if it were an acceptable practice.  It's time for that to end.”  

Read the FCC Commissioner’s full blog here

- People, Places & Things/9-1-1magazine.com (via FCC, 3/1/17)

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