Public Safety Says Efforts to Curb 9-1-1 Fee Diversion Should Not Harm 9-1-1 Agencies
Friday, November 13, 2020 | Comments

Public-safety organizations told the FCC that any efforts to prevent diversion of 9-1-1 fees should not harm 9-1-1 organizations and should target the legislatures and entities responsible for diverting the fees.

Each year, several states divert 9-1-1 fees to other purposes that are not 9-1-1. Each year, the FCC is required to report to Congress on 9-1-1 fee diversion and the commission has been working to eliminate diversion. In early October, the FCC released a notice of inquiry seeking comment on ways to prevent 9-1-1 fee diversion.

Some of the FCC’s suggested solutions for preventing diversion were restricting federal grant funding for states that divert 9-1-1 fees, regulating 9-1-1 fee descriptions on consumer bills, directing service providers not to collect 9-1-1 fees for calls in a diverting jurisdiction, working with state legislature and making diverting jurisdictions ineligible for FCC licenses, programs and committees.

Many of the organizations that responded said they support eliminating fee diversion but noted that some actions such as limiting federal grant funding could hurt 9-1-1 organizations without fully eliminating the issue.

“As a threshold matter, any punitive measure contemplated by the commission must account for the fact that state 9-1-1 entities are not themselves responsible for diverting fees, nor do they wish for the state legislatures and executives to continue diverting fees,” the National Emergency Number Association’s (NENA) filing said. “If 9-1-1 could end diversion tomorrow, it would. However, state legislatures and executives, which state 9-1-1 entities cannot control (and to who the entities are often directly beholden), determine whether states may divert funds. Thus, it is important that, in punishing states for fee diversion, the commission does not also punish a state’s 9-1-1 system.”

NENA noted that a large majority of 9-1-1 fee diversion occurs in a small geographic area. More than 90% of the fee diversion occurs in New York and New Jersey, according to the FCC’s reports on the issue to Congress.

“In crafting a nationwide solution to fee diversion, we must be cognizant of the fact that this issue is largely confined to only two states,” the filing said. NENA noted that New York and New Jersey diverted $175M in 9-1-1 fees in 2018 and that continued a trend that had been seen in the five years before it.

“Thus, for the commission action to incentivize these states to cease diversion, the commission must anticipate actions that cost the diverting states at least a significant portion, if not all of this revenue,” the filing said. “Further diverted fees in these states’ account for only a small part of the states’ overall budget. Thus, in order for the commission to pressure states to move in the right direction and overcome any bureaucratic inertia keeping these diversion regimes in place, it may need to exert economic incentives on those states that are significantly greater than just the 9-1-1 revenues the states divert.”

NENA argued having service providers not collect 9-1-1 fees could do more harm than good, because those diverted funds only make up a small amount of the budget and would likely not encourage the governments to change their ways. NENA acknowledged that making eligibility to FCC services dependent on whether a state is diverting or not could make a difference.

The Boulder Regional Emergency Telephone Service Authority (BRETSA) in Boulder, Colorado, questioned the FCC’s authority to actually move forward with some of the remedies it suggested in the inquiry.

“The commission finds authority to deny states or local authorities these federal benefits in the language of the NET 911 Act, the legislative history of the NET 911 Act and that in the Next Generation 911 Advancement Act of 2012, Congress conditioned certain grants to the states on the requirement that the states have not diverted 9-1-1 fees,” BRETSA’s filing said. “However, in the NET 911 Act, Congress only authorized the commission to report to Congress on fee diversion. It did not provide for any denial of federal benefits or other penalty for fee diversion, let alone authorize the commission to deny benefits.”

BRETSA argued that denying local jurisdictions or public-safety agencies grants or FCC licenses would harm those agencies and the general public and not necessarily the legislatures diverting the fees.

Specifically, BRETSA said that the commission is overreaching on the powers given to it the Net 911 Act.

The National Association of 9-1-1 Administrators (NASNA) also said it was opposed to disqualifying diverting states from grants.

“When a state diverts state 9-1-1 funds to non-9-1-1 purposes, public-safety communications is harmed,” the filing said. “To then withhold federal grant funding from the same public-safety communications systems is to double down on the injury that has already been done. It directly creates a negative impact on the same public-safety system that it is attempting to protect.”

Like the other organizations, NASNA argued that there is no proof that disqualifying states from grants would be enough to stop diversion of the fees.

“Some NASNA members have indicated the potential loss of grant money has been deterrent enough to keep legislatures from diverting money from 9-1-1 funds,” the filing said. “Other states, however, have seen that the value of the diverted 9-1-1 funds far outweigh the potential 9-1-1 grant funds that may be available to an individual state.”

The New York State 9-1-1 Coordinators Association (NYS 911CA) said it found the FCC’s inquiry encouraging.

“As representatives of 9-1-1 organizations and public-safety answering points (PSAP) throughout the state of New York, we witness 9-1-1 fee diversion firsthand,” the group’s filing said. “The state of New York diverts critical revenues away from organizations that perform life-saving work into the general fund with no accountability as to how the revenues are spent or allocated.”

The NYS 911CA said it believes some measures would be more effective than others. The group specifically highlighted withholding frequency renewals and licenses.

“This may be one of the most effective measures as licensing is clearly within the authority of the FCC,” the filing said. “States need frequencies and bandwidth to operate their communications systems and this is a tool the FCC can effectively use to states.”

CTIA, which represents telecommunications carriers, said that the FCC should avoid any actions that could confuse consumers. For this reason, it said, requiring a new disclosure of 9-1-1 fees on consumer bills would be hard to effectively implement and would likely not prevent fee diversion.

“The commission adopted the truth-in-billing rules to deter common carriers from engaging in unjust or unreasonable practices or from any misleading or deceptive billing practices,” CTIA said in its filing. “But this proposal would impose a rule that has nothing to do with a carrier’s practices and everything to do with a state’s actions. Section 201(b) cannot be reasonable stretched to require service providers to inform subscribers about the practice of state governments.”

CTIA argued that it would be difficult for providers to explain in limited space the significance of whether their state diverts 9-1-1 fees or not.

The organization also argued that requiring service providers to take other actions to curb 9-1-1 fee diversion would inappropriately shift the responsibility to service providers and exceed its authority.

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Comments
On 11/19/20, John Linko said:
The Don t Break Up the T-Band Act H.R. 451 passed out of the house and pending in the Senate has definitive language directing FCC to establish the Ending 9 1 1 Fee Diversion Now Strike Force made up of interagency stakeholders and groups at the federal and state level along with trade groups and citizens.

Should this act pass the Senate and be signed into law before this Congress adjourns fingers crossed what are the potential impacts on what was reported here


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