Emergency 911 Services and Funding

Wireless Works When You Need It Most

Wireless technology is a vital and powerful tool for your personal safety and security.  Americans use wireless devices to contact wireless emergency services called Enhanced 911 (E-911) nearly 400,000 times per day – saving lives, stopping crimes, and helping others in emergencies. But the numbers don’t really tell the full story. Check out some true accounts about everyday wireless users such as you, who used wireless to act in an extraordinary circumstance.

How E-911 Works

Your wireless providers and your local public safety community are working hard together to ensure that E-911 services will be efficient and made available quickly, when you need help the most. E-911 services ensure that you can call 911 from any wireless phone and reach a call center (‘Public Safety Answering Point’ or PSAP). Most PSAPs have the ability to locate your call to a very specific level, but it’s also helpful for you to be able to provide additional information about your location, such as nearby buildings, landmarks or intersections. We have several tips for you in the event that you need to call for emergency help.

How Do We Pay for Wireless E-911 ?

The E-911 system is mostly funded by wireless consumers, although American wireless providers also invest substantial resources to support E-911 services over their wireless networks and on wireless devices. Consumers pay E-911 fees and surcharges that are added onto monthly wireless service bills. The funds are then used to support the systems’ operations, such as the equipment costs and staffing requirements for emergency call centers, and for upgrades to the current system.

Those include Next Generation-911 (NG-911) service upgrades that are defined as the next evolutionary step in the development of our current E-911 communications system. This new system will require a multi-year transition that has already begun. In fact, a December 2012 FCC report to Congress noted that 33 states indicated that their 911 funding mechanism allows for distribution of 911 funds for the implementation of NG-911. The NG-911 system will eventually replace the present E-911 system, and will be designed to provide access to emergency services from all sources, and to allow multimedia and real-time data capabilities for wireless providers, PSAPs and other emergency service organizations and public safety operations. These new network capabilities are all designed to help keep citizens safe, to find you and bring help more quickly and more efficiently.

Who Controls an E-911 ‘Fund’ Paid for by Consumers ?

The state and local governments, along with their regulatory commissions, control the E-911 fee costs, but those are typically collected on a consumer’s bill by the wireless provider, and then remitted through to the states, which then use the funding for E-911 purposes. Most cities and states use the funds appropriately, in an effort to better provide for the safety of their citizens.

State and Local Wireless Fund ‘Raids’

Unfortunately, desperate economic times for some cities, counties and states are calling for desperate measures, and some states dip into those E-911 funds to pay for other things unrelated to improving your wireless service. This ranges from quick-fix patches covering budget shortfalls, to outright diversion of funds to other purposes.

Every year, the FCC reports to Congress on how states collect and distribute the E-911 fees. In the latest report, the FCC found that four (4) states used a portion of 911 fees collected for non-911 related purposes in 2013. Specifically:

  • Rhode Island and New York diverted 911 fees collected into their state’s General Fund.
  • Illinois, Kansas, New York, and Rhode Island reported that it used the 911 fees collected primarily for other emergency first responder programs.
  • Illinois reported that $10 million was legislatively transferred from the Wireless Services Emergency Fund.

One of the most notable findings of the report is that Illinois borrowed over $6.5 million from the state’s Wireless Carrier Reimbursement Fund that was eventually repaid over the course of 2012.

That’s simply not fair to wireless consumers like you who are paying these fees for wireless emergency service, and are told they’re being used for maintaining and upgrading vital 911 services.