Changes ahead for county’s E911 service

Published 11:34 pm Friday, December 9, 2011

The Pike County E-911 Board met this week, and although there is no definite timeframe in place, residents can expect changes to their service in 2012.

Until three or four years ago, some areas of Alabama were still using a basic 911 service, said Pike County E-911 Director Chris Dozier, but now every district has converted to an enhanced service (E-911) that allows call centers to better locate people in trouble.

Now, the program will go several steps further as part of the Alabama Next Generation Emergency Network. People who need help will be able to send texts, photos and communicate in ways previously unused by emergency call centers.

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“We are basically catching up and making use of all technology available,” Dozier said.

But the acceptance of new forms of data means a new way of doing business. Instead of utilizing a phone company to receive calls, ANGEN will have its own network.

The transition will come in waves, Dozier explained, and could begin as early as six months from now. A change customers will notice even before the new technology of ANGEN kicks in will be an increase in wire-line surcharges. Currently, homeowners with landlines pay $1.50 per phone bill and businesses pay $2. The cost will go up for both groups, possibly increasing to $2.60 and will now be equal. “A phone line is a phone line. It’s a connection,” Dozier said. “If somebody calls for help, we send them help. I really don’t see why one should be more than the other.”

Wireless customers also pay a surcharge of 70 cents, but that is collected by the Alabama Wireless 911 Board and divided up between the wireless board, the wireless provider and the local districts providing the service. Dozier said the minimal wireless surcharge is costing the Pike County E-911 District money.

“We lose money every year. People are dropping their wire-lines and going to cell phones,” Dozier said, adding that he doesn’t blame consumers for choosing less expensive options.

Dozier estimated that the district takes a hit of $15,000 each year due to shrinking landline usage. With a total gross income of about $300,000 and a net income that’s roughly between $30,000 and $40,000 each year, that drop in funds is a heavy one, Dozier said.

Dozier said another funding issue is that some lines, including government lines, are exempt from an E-911 surcharge. He estimates there are about 5,000 lines in the district E-911 provides a service for, and pays for, with no monetary return. At some point next year, legislators could vote to create a statewide fixed-fee for wire-lines and wireless customers. Until that point, Dozier said the Pike County E-911 Board will consider equipment and service costs as a factor when determining the district surcharge.

Currently up for consideration is a new switcher the district needs. Dozier said the board has received 10 bids for the equipment, but even the competitive cost is high. On the low end, the switcher could be about $230,000. On the high end, about $400,000.

“The board has been saving up for this about three years,” Dozier said. “But this is not our only expense, so I’m not sure at this point how much of that we have to go to that switcher.”

The board will meet again in early January.