FCC Proposes Rules to Address 9-1-1 Fee Diversion
Wednesday, February 17, 2021 | Comments

The FCC proposed rules to address 9-1-1 fee diversion, the practice by some states and jurisdictions of using the 9-1-1 fees that consumers pay on their phone bills for non-9-1-1 purposes.

The Don’t Break Up the T-Band Act of 2020, enacted in December, directed the Commission to adopt rules that define what uses of 9-1-1 fees by states and jurisdictions constitute fee diversion. The notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) adopted seeks comment on proposals to implement these provisions in the new legislation. The proposed rules:
• Define the types of 9-1-1 fee expenditures by states and jurisdictions that are acceptable under the criteria in the new legislation,
• Allow states and jurisdictions to petition the commission for a determination that a 9-1-1 fee expenditure not previously designated as acceptable by the commission could be treated as acceptable,
• Prohibit any state or jurisdiction identified by the commission as a fee diverter from serving on any advisory committee established by the commission, and
• Require any state or jurisdiction that receives a federal 9-1-1 grant to provide the commission with the information it requires to prepare its annual 9-1-1 fee report to Congress.

The legislation also directed the commission to establish a federal advisory committee to study 9-1-1 fee diversion and develop recommendations to Congress to end this practice. The commission issued a public notice seeking nominations for membership on the Ending 9-1-1 Fee Diversion Now Strike Force.

“Ensuring that a modern, effective 9-1-1 system stands ready to assist Americans during a crisis is one of the commission’s most important responsibilities,” said FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks. “Both Congress and the commission have long recognized that 9-1-1 fees should serve 9-1-1 purposes and have worked to combat fee diversion. Recent legislation, adopted as part of the 2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act, extends and strengthens those efforts by directing the commission to define and deter 9-1-1 fee diversion. I thank the staff of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau for their hard work quickly preparing this notice of proposed rulemaking in response to that statute, and I look forward to reviewing a robust record on these important issues.”

Americans place more than 200 million 9-1-1 calls each year. Funding for the 9-1-1 system is provided in part by the 9-1-1 fees established by states and territories that appear on consumer phone bills. Despite the critical importance of 9-1-1 service, the commission’s annual reports to Congress have repeatedly shown that some states divert a portion of the fees collected for 9-1-1 to other purposes.

“We know the results of 9-1-1 fee diversion can be tragic,” said Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “It can lead to understaffed calling centers, longer wait times in an emergency and sluggish dispatch for public-safety personnel. And, it can slow the ability of 9-1-1 call centers to update their systems to support digital age technologies. So consistent with this new law, I’ve also directed the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau to establish an interagency 9-1-1 Fee Diversion Strike Force that will study and report on what can be done to end this practice.

“I look forward to the work they will do and the record that develops in response to this rulemaking,” she said. “All good ideas are welcome. We need them. In fact, I believe they can make a meaningful difference as we navigate both the ongoing pandemic and the transition to next-generation 9-1-1. They are especially important for states wrestling with funding challenges and they matter deeply for the nation’s 9-1-1 operators who run emergency call centers across the country. They deserve the support intended for them; fee diversion needs to stop.”

Find the full NPRM here.

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