Legislation could change E911 local rates

Published 7:27 pm Monday, April 4, 2011

Pending legislation before the Alabama Senate may affect Enhanced-911 (E-911) services, which has the potential to drive up surcharges for wireless and wire-line phone users.

Chris Dozier, Pike County E-911 Director, said the various pieces of legislation will likely affect E-911 revenues, which would mean higher costs for consumers.

“We’ve got a pretty big responsibility and a lot of expenses we have to cover,” Dozier said. “It’s a scary thought, not knowing what our revenues are going to do. There are so many possibilities right now with all these different bills, of how it can be affected, depending on which one maybe gets passed and which ones don’t or if any of them do.”

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One of the bills currently before the Legislature is Senate Bill 101, which aims to reduce the service charges by 5 cents for wireless customers.

According to a brief synopsis of the bill found on the Alabama state Legislature’s website, the bill would impose a uniform, statewide prepaid wireless 911 charge on each retail sale of prepaid wireless telecommunications services in the same amount as the E-911 fee per month of regular cell phone service and would preclude the application of other state and local 911 or E-911 charges to the services.

Dozier said the current surcharges, which provide the E-911 revenue, imposed on wireless customers are 70 cents a month and $1.50 for residential and $2 for business wire-line phone customers.

The effects of one-time surcharges for prepaid wireless customers is difficult to determine.

“It’s hard to say, because it’s based on purchasing habits,” Dozier said. “It’s not a straight 70 cents per month, or per connection. When it’s based on consumer purchases, then that can change with the economy and a number of other things. There’s too many factors that we don’t have the details on for us to really predict what’s going to happen.”

According to Dozier, various factors are currently in play, in addition to legislation, which can significantly affect E-911 revenue.

One of those factors is a case before the Alabama Supreme Court – T-Mobile South, LLC and Powertel Memphis, Inc. vs. Leslie Bonet. It could determine whether E-911 services are able to collect from prepaid wireless customers, while regular cell phone customers will still be charged the monthly fee.

“If that happens, then we would lose the money and would have to act accordingly,” Dozier said. “If the revenue drops to an amount, because we have been getting some revenue through prepaid customers, where we are not bringing enough money in to cover our current expenses and future expenses, then the only course of action I can think of that will be available to us is for us to raise the rates on the wire-line within Pike County.”

Dozier said that is an option that he does not want to take, but if his choice is between raising the rates 50 cents to $1or the 911 system failing, then there really isn’t a choice.

“That would be the only option we would have to increase our revenue,” Dozier said. “We can not raise the regular wireless rates, because that’s done on a state level.”

Reduced revenue would mean a halt on capital expenditures that Dozier said the county is trying to work toward.

“The number one thing on our list of capital expenditures that we have coming up that we’re trying to work towards is buying a new 911 switch,” Dozier said. “That’s our piece of equipment that handles incoming calls and handles those calls to display, for the communications officers at each of the three centers, the location information.”