Congressman Proposes Tying T-Band Delay to Ending 9-1-1 Fee Diversion
Thursday, May 16, 2019 | Comments

A U.S. representative proposed delaying the start of the T-band process for three years and tying eligibility for that delay to states and local entities ending 9-1-1 fee diversion.

The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act, which created the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), mandates that by 2021, Congress begin a process to auction the T-band spectrum. Within two years of the auction’s completion, public-safety licensees in the band must vacate the spectrum.

During a May 15 FCC oversight hearing by the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, Rep. Greg Walden, Republican leader for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, proposed delaying the start of that process to 2024.

“To be eligible for this delay, states and localities would simply need to comply with a very common-sense policy that bipartisan bills have already called for, which is to put an end to 9-1-1 fee diversion,” Walden said.

Walden said he would soon release a draft of the proposal and encouraged committee feedback.

The FCC’s most recent report on 9-1-1 fee diversion, released in December, found that nearly 10 percent of funds collected in 2017 were diverted to uses other than 9-1-1. According to that report, Montana, New Jersey, Nevada, Rhode Island, West Virginia and the U.S. Virgin Islands all diverted 9-1-1 fees during 2017.

“This ought to be mail fraud, frankly, because some communities and states are telling their consumers on their phone bill, ‘You’re paying for 9-1-1,’ when in fact they take the money and spend it elsewhere,” Walden said. “We need to take care of our 9-1-1 system, and consumers have the right to know that they’re being defrauded by their own governments in some cases.”

In his opening testimony to the subcommittee, FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly, who has repeatedly reprimanded states for diverting fees and pushed them to end the practice, said more legislation for the issue is necessary. Some states are working to end the practice, but a few are not, he said.

“The ‘name and shame’ process generated by our annual report has only been so helpful,” O’Rielly said. “The state leaders of certain recalcitrant states — New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island — don’t seem to care about the shaming part.”

O’Rielly said he found Walden’s proposal intriguing and was interested in learning more.

According to an FCC fact sheet on the T-band, there are 925 public-safety entities that hold licenses in the T-band. Those licenses cover 11 metropolitan areas across the country including Boston, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Francisco/Oakland and Washington, D.C.

The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act does not specifically address business/industrial (B/I) incumbents in the T-band. In April, the Enterprise Wireless Alliance (EWA) asked the FCC to designate the Part 90 800 MHz guard band spectrum as “green space” for relocating incumbents from the T-band.

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On 5/22/19, Richard Terwilliger said:
The proposed legislation is good as far as forcing states to discontinue diverting 9-1-1 funding. There is currently proposed legislation in Congress to remove the T-Band mandate as it creates a major problem for current emergency service users. Perhaps tying the 9-1-1 fee compliance with grant processes would get the states' attention.

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