Fair Funding for 911 Emergency Communications

If you’ve ever been in an emergency, you know how important it can be to call 911 for help. Making that connection and talking to one of the thousands of highly-skilled 911 call center operators can be the difference between life and death. That’s why it’s encouraging to see so many states upgrading their 911 systems with the latest technology to ensure citizens have access to efficient emergency communications systems, and why it’s so important that states spend the money they collect through 911 fees for this important work.

Most states already impose a wireless 911 fee on consumers to help offset the cost of emergency communications systems. Some states do this at a state-level, some at a local-level, and some do both. Since the wireless tax and fee rate on consumers is already so high, states should make sure they are utilizing the current funds collected for emergency services effectively and not add to the current tax and fee burden.

These pro-consumer policy considerations should factor into any state’s plan to upgrade their 911 systems:

Decide the wireless 911 rate in the state legislature.

The legislature elected to represent the people should set a statewide 911 fee in statute. If that state’s 911 agency thinks the fee is not appropriate, they should go to the legislature with justification for a fee increase or decrease.

Spend revenue only on what it was raised for: 911 systems.

Consumers pay more than $2 billion in dedicated taxes, fees and surcharges every year. Further, when citizens pay a state or local tax or fee for a dedicated purpose, there is trust that the state will make good on that promise and use the revenues for their intended purpose. The 911 fees collected should only be used to support the costs to establish and maintain emergency communications systems to help keep citizens safe.  These funds should not be raised under the guise of paying for 911, but then used in the state’s general budget. That’s happened in some instances, and it’s not fair to the consumers paying those fees.

Justify the cost, or reduce the fee on consumers.

The cost to upgrade 911 systems may be significant upfront, but as they are implemented, the costs should decrease. States should carefully look into whether new technologies can decrease their costs, and should adjust fees on consumers accordingly.

Making sure that all Americans have access to emergency systems is vitally important to public safety. States just need to make sure that they are using their citizens’ tax dollars efficiently and effectively to provide these services without burdening consumers with excessive fees.