FCC Launches Inquiry into Preventing 9-1-1 Fee Diversion
Wednesday, September 30, 2020 | Comments

The FCC launched a proceeding to examine ways to combat 9-1-1 fee diversion, where some states and other jurisdictions use the 9-1-1 fees that consumers pay on their phone bills for non-9-1-1 purposes.

Each year, the commission reports to Congress on the collection and expenditure of 9-1-1 fees by states and territories. These reports show that despite the critical importance of funding for 9-1-1 services, some states divert a portion of the funds collected for 9-1-1 to other purposes. Between 2012 and 2018 alone, states and other jurisdictions diverted more than $1.275 billion in 9-1-1 fees to non-9-1-1 programs or to the state’s general fund.

In a notice of inquiry (NOI) adopted today, the commission seeks comment on the effects that 9-1-1 fee diversion has had on the provision of 9-1-1 services and the transition to next-generation 911 (NG 9-1-1). The commission asks for input on ways that it or other entities could discourage 9-1-1 fee diversion, such as restricting federal grant funding for diverting states. The commission also seeks comment on regulatory steps that it could take to deter fee diversion, such as limiting the availability of FCC licenses and other benefits based on fee diversion or using the commission’s truth-in-billing authority to increase consumer awareness of fee diversion where it occurs. In addition, the Commission asks whether it could improve its annual 9-1-1 fee reporting process to further discourage fee diversion.

Americans place more than 200 million emergency calls to 9-1-1 call centers each year. To ensure that the 9-1-1 system provides the public with the life-saving services they need in times of crisis, 9-1-1 centers must be adequately funded. Funding is also needed to support migrating 9-1-1 networks from legacy technology to advanced, IP-enabled next-generation technology that will make the 9-1-1 system more resilient and support advanced capabilities, such as text messaging and streaming video. Funding for these critical 9-1-1 purposes is provided in part by dedicated 9-1-1 fees established by each state and territory that appear as charges on customer bills for wireless, wireline and other communications services.

At the meeting, the FCC also approved rules that would allow states to lease portions of the 4.9 GHz spectrum to commercial entities. In order to be eligible to participate, states must not divert 9-1-1 fees.

“Fee diversion continues to damage 9-1-1’s reputation and puts lives at risk,” the National emergency Number Association (NENA) said. “We appreciate the Commission’s willingness to tackle this challenging issue, and look forward to contributing our perspective to the proceeding.”

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