Where Do Your State’s 9-1-1 Fees Go?
By Dominic C. Villecco
Tuesday, July 12, 2016 | Comments
Where do your 9-1-1 fees go? Well, if you live in New Jersey, not to 9-1-1, according to the latest filing by the state as referenced in the FCC’s seventh annual report to Congress on state collection and distribution of 9-1-1 and E9-1-1 fees and charges dated Dec. 31, 2015. This report to Congress is part of the FCC’s annual proceeding on the collection and distribution of 9-1-1 fees in the United States. The FCC must submit the report to Congress annually pursuant to the New and Emerging Technologies 911 Improvement Act of 2008 (NET 911 Act). The NET 911 Act requires that the commission report whether 9-1-1 fees and charges collected by the states, the District of Columbia, U.S. territories and Indian territories are being used for any purpose other than to support 9-1-1 and E9-1-1 services.

The Public Safety Committee of the New Jersey Wireless Association (NJWA) has been pursuing this issue in New Jersey for the past four years. We have filed four FCC annual proceedings to bring attention to our problem in New Jersey and have taken steps to educate our state legislators and congressional representatives on the issue.

According to New Jersey’s own report, 89 percent of collected 9-1-1 fees go to non-9-1-1 expenses. The more than 200 public-safety answering points (PSAPs) in the state do not receive any funds from the state to operate, maintain and upgrade their systems. Credit is deserved where credit is due, and 11 percent of collected fees do cover eligible 9-1-1 expenses. However, this 11 percent covers the state 9-1-1 selective router system, a 9-1-1 system built and maintained for New Jersey by Verizon Wireless more than 20 years ago.

In our legislative educational process, we have focused our efforts on funding and implementing next-generation 9-1-1 (NG 9-1-1) since the state of New Jersey has spent virtually no funds in this regard. This NG 9-1-1 system will eventually replace the outdated selective router system and will provide PSAPs the ability to answer calls for help with the current technologies used by our residents for daily communications. The good news is our legislators recognized this effort and have pending legislation in the state assembly that enforces the implementation of NG 9-1-1 systems. The bad news is our legislators chose to increase fees by 10 percent to cover the NG 9-1-1 implementation costs and limited the increase to only three years. As the name implies, NG 9-1-1 will be the next generation in 9-1-1, and limiting this legislation to three years is obviously shortsighted. Our discussions with legislators have yielded statements such as, “it’s only 10 percent,” “it’s only 9 cents a month,” “it’s only $1 a year” and “it’s only for three years.”

The state of New Jersey has collected 9-1-1 fees averaging about $120 million annually since 2006, shortly after the New Jersey statute was put in place to collect these fees. This state statute predates the NET 911 Act of 2008, as does the state’s interpretation of how 9-1-1 fees should be collected, managed and distributed — that is, 11 percent for the cause and 89 percent to the “kitty.”

From 2006 to the present, more than $1.2 billion in collected 9-1-1 fees was deposited into a 9-1-1 System and Emergency Response trust fund account, and about $1 billion of that has been used to cover noneligible costs, despite that fact that the NET 911 Act is specifically clear on how the states can and will collect and use the funds.

According to a 2005 study prepared by Rutgers University Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, the vast majority of 9-1-1 calls are being handled by county/local PSAPs. The PSAPs all operate under a plan from the state of New Jersey’s Office of Emergency Telecommunications, under state statute. Less than 10 percent of the collected 9-1-1 fees have been distributed to the local/county PSAPs that handle the 9-1-1 calls in our state, and the last time that happened was in 2009. None of the $120 million in annually collected 9-1-1 fees have been distributed since 2009.

As the NJWA Public Safety Committee expanded its outreach educational efforts and began to inform the FCC, it became apparent that this issue is not limited to New Jersey. In fact, in the FCC’s December 2015 report to Congress, as many as 10 states reported diverting collected 9-1-1 fees to noneligible costs. New Jersey is listed as a repeat offender in only two calendar years despite the fact that we have pointed out for the past four years the diversion of these collected fees. This then led to further research on this potentially national issue.

According to the filing in the current FCC proceeding by the Washington State Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials International – The National Emergency Number Association (APCO-NENA) chapter, the state of Washington has taken steps similar to New Jersey when it comes to 9-1-1 fee diversions. The Revised Code of Washington (RCW) is written such that the uses, for which funds are diverted, are permitted; therefore, these funds are not diverted under their state law. Further, the FCC’s own Task Force on Optimal PSAP Architecture (TFOPA), an FCC federal advisory committee, said in a report dated Jan. 29, “Some of the listed practices have been utilized for several years and have considerable inertia.” The TFOPA refers to the fee diversion in states and also states that fee diversion trending has gotten worse. “Currently, the accuracy and quality of data submitted to the FCC for incorporation into the agency’s annual report to Congress, required by the Net 9-1-1 Act, is deficient,” the TFOPA report said.

Of great national concern is that this data, even by the FCC’s own committee’s admission, is inaccurate and of deficient quality. The data is self reported to the FCC by the states and rolled up into the annual report to Congress. The FCC report outlines repeat offenders including the states of New York, Illinois and Rhode Island, yet no steps have been taken to correct the situation. It merely gets reported to Congress each year and filed away until the next annual proceeding. The report to Congress does not portray the actual state of 9-1-1 fee collections, and our federal lawmakers are misinformed about the extent of the problem.

During a discussion with one of New Jersey’s congressional representatives, he commented, “if we are only looking at a problem which is 10 percent or less of the whole country, we’ve got bigger fish to fry at Congress and the FCC, like net neutrality...” The FCC’s December 2015 report stated fee diversion at “only” 8.8 percent. Our congressman is right; a percentage less than 10 percent certainly sounds like less of a problem than $2.5 billion.

While there are certainly other issues that must be addressed at the federal level, our public-safety dispatchers not having the tools needed to help our residents in danger, must be one of our highest local, state and national priorities. A recent report from the HBO series, “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”, adeptly points out the sad truth to what is going on with 9-1-1 fees around our country. From commissions that are not staffed to the interview of a governor of one of the long-standing repeat offender states not aware of the issue to just one case of a fatal cry for help, the problem certainly seems to be a “big enough fish to fry.”

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Dominic C. Villecco, a 35-year veteran of the telecommunications industry is the president of V-COMM, as well as the vice president of the board of trustees and chair of the Public Safety Committee of the NJWA. Email feedback to editor@RRMediaGroup.com



 
 
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Comments
On 7/13/16, Kristin said:
"In our legislative educational process, we have focused our efforts on funding and implementing next-generation 9-1-1 (NG 9-1-1) since the state of New Jersey has spent virtually no funds in this regard. This NG 9-1-1 system will eventually replace the outdated selective router system." Legislative education process ... Do you mean lobbying? And about the state not spending any money in that regard, I hope they don't put in one red cent. The claim about the selective router system being outdated ... says who? The guy who wants that lucrative state money to start the nefarious NG 9-1-1 system? Why would anyone in their right mind place our citizens' calls for emergency responders in an IP-based system? And since our tax-paying citizens are the ones footing the bill for that state money to go toward the profits of a corporation is not only un-American it is downright fascist, or what Mussolini coined corporatism. The tried and true system is copper line. Copper is SAFE. The Verizon copper lines are guaranteed by the FCC to be built with redundancy — what we know as the giant battery backup system that works during hurricanes or large power interruptions. The very idea of our emergency system being in the cloud is not only ludicrous, it is dangerous. And please stop mocking copper line system as being outdated — that term is a subjective one. The wheel is also an ancient system. Should we start using squares instead?
I urge every reader to research all they can on the NG 9-1-1 system. I also urge the reader to follow the money — that is the most important part. Our 9-1-1 system is not broken; never was. Let's not throw another wrench in, especially one bearing a gold-plated promise.


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