FCC Commissioner Wants Hard Line for States that Divert 9-1-1 Fees
Thursday, March 02, 2017 | Comments

FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly took to task states that divert 9-1-1 fees for purposes other than 9-1-1 in a blog post.

“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,” the blog began. “After almost 15 years of working on the problem, we are no closer to resolving it.”

O’Rielly offered three “nonmutually exclusive” ideas for the FCC to increase the pressure and force states to end the practice of diverting 9-1-1 fees.

1. Interstate Services Prohibition. He said the FCC maintains sole jurisdiction over interstate communications services and, as such, it retains the right to bar diverting states from imposing 9-1-1 fees on the interstate calls. That means a good percentage of wireless services, landline voice services and all VoIP services would be off limits for such states, while ensuring no greater burdens on affected industry. “By prohibiting interstate services from being included as revenue sources, the pot of money diverting states would have to pickpocket would be minimized, sending a strong signal that the commission is no longer going to sit on the sidelines with regards to this matter,” he said.

2. Prohibit Collection and Remittance by Providers. O’Rielly said the FCC has previously prevented communications providers from including misrepresentations or inaccurate information in requisite consumer bills. For diverting states, the collection of funds above what will be spent directly on 9-1-1 services is by definition misleading to consumers. The commission can prevent any providers from collecting such funds or requiring them to remit the funds to diverting states. As part of this effort, the commission could also define what are inappropriate uses of 9-1-1 funds and ensure providers are held harmless in the process, he said.

3. Commission Advisory Committees. “The ability to serve on commission advisory committees is a privilege, not a right,” O’Rielly said. “As such, the commission can and should exclude any person from a diverting state from participating on an advisory committee, and this can be done without losing valuable advice. There are plenty of people able and willing to serve on our committees without including those from diverting states.”

In addition to the FCC 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, O’Rielly said.

“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,” the commissioner said. “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.”

The full blog is here.

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