FCC: Five States Divert $197M from 911 Fees

The FCC has released its annual report on 911 fees collected and distributed by states and found $197.9 million had been diverted to services other than 911 in five states, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and West Virginia. 

States levy a fee on cell phone bills to fund wireless enhanced 911, though some use it for other purposes as well.

Related: What's the 611 

That drew some immediate calls for addressing that fee diversion, but it was actually an improvement over last year, when six states diverted $285 million. 

“The FCC’s report on state 911 fees once again shows again that some states are diverting the money they collect away from 911-related services. This is unacceptable. When Americans pay 911 fees on their phone bills, they expect that money to fund 911-related services. Instead, more than 7% of the fees collected went to other purposes,” said FCC chairman Ajit Pai.   

The issue of 911 fee diversion has been on the radar screen of FCC commissioner Michael O'Rielly for years and his statement did not mince words over the practice. 

“Despite some progress over the years reducing the list of diverters and non-reporters, the Commission’s latest 9-1-1 fee diversion report sadly shows that the same pitiful states continue to raid consumer-paid funds for unrelated purposes," he said, "and one additional territory didn’t bother to respond at all. 

"Specifically, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, West Virginia, and at least one county in Nevada seized 2018 funds for other uses, meritorious or not, placing the public safety of residents and visitors at risk," he added. Then there was American Samoa, which did not respond to the FCC inquiry. "This is unconscionable," he said. States and territories are not required to provide the info. 

As to the report, he said: "I’m so appreciative that such downright thievery is receiving greater scrutiny by the Commission and generating serious legislative proposals by key Congressional leaders.” 

The report prompted House Energy & Commerce Committee ranking member Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Communications Subcommittee ranking member Bob Latta (R-Ohio) to send a letter to House E&C chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) calling for legislation to end such fee diversion. "Our first responders and public safety professionals deserve better, and we urge you to bring legislation before the Committee expeditiously to end all diversion of 9-1-1 fees," they said.  

They said that since 2009, over $1 billion has been diverted, which they said was "unconscionable." 

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.