Parties have suggested that the FCC seek additional information from states for annual reports to Congress on 911 fee diversion. Several entities weighed in on 911 fee diversions in the wake of a report released by the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau in December that said nearly 10% of the total 911 fees collected by all 50 states, five territories, and the District of Columbia in 2017 were diverted to other purposes (TR Daily, Dec. 19, 2018).
Diversions occurred in Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, West Virginia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to the report. “The total amount of 911/E911 funds diverted by all reporting jurisdictions in calendar year 2017 was $284.9 million, or approximately 9.70% of total 911/E911 fees collected,” it added. The annual report is mandated by the New and Emerging Technologies 911 Improvement Act of 2008 (NET 911 Act).
“The annual reports are helpful for providing insight into the nation’s 9-1-1 ecosystem and combatting fee diversion, but as APCO has previously commented, the Commission could make the reports more useful,” the Association of Public-Safety Officials-International said in its filing in PS docket 09-14. “For the eleventh and subsequent annual reports on 9-1-1 fee collection and expenditure, the Commission should revise the information collection questionnaire consistent with APCO’s suggestions.”
“Ending fee diversion, while essential, will not ensure ECCs [emergency communications centers] have the resources they need,” APCO also stressed. “Significant federal funding is necessary to modernize the nation’s 9-1-1 systems and could provide the additional benefit of serving as a compelling deterrent to fee diversion.”
“States need clear notice about what constitutes fee diversion in order to appropriately document and combat the practice,” APCO added. “For example, the Commission has ‘generally determined that funds used to support public safety radio systems … are not 911-related,’ but that expenditures to integrate radio systems with 9-1-1 could be 9-1-1-related where sufficient documentation is provided. While APCO agrees with this particular guidance, it may be helpful for the Commission to provide specific examples of what constitutes fee diversion in advance of future information collections, for example, by including a record of its previous determinations and descriptions of how states have demonstrated that an expenditure is ‘911-related.’”
APCO also noted that the FCC’s “annual questionnaire asks several questions related to NG9-1-1 services and expenditures. The report’s information on NG9-1-1 could be made more useful by providing a comprehensive understanding of what constitutes NG9-1-1, how states are ensuring interoperability, and the approaches being taken to achieve NG9-1-1 capabilities.”
The FCC also “should collect and report more detailed information on the ‘other’ service types for 9-1-1 calls, meaning not identified as wireline, wireless, or VoIP calls,” APCO said. “As technology evolves and provides new methods for contacting 9-1-1, these ‘other’ types of calls could have implications for public safety telecommunicators’ and callers’ experience during an emergency. For example, an upward trend in real-time text 9-1-1 calls will likely warrant technology and training changes for ECCs.”
The Colorado Public Utilities Commission said it “has no knowledge of any 911 fee diversion in Colorado. All 911 funding is local, and we are unaware of any local 911 fee diversion. However, we believe that it is important to remember that there is a division of responsibility for oversight of 911 services at the federal, state and local government levels, with overlap in some areas. For example, both the FCC and the states both have roles in overseeing network reliability, outage reporting, and outage mitigation.
“Regarding the actual handling of 911 calls by public safety telecommunicators, and how state-authorized 911 surcharge funds are spent, this is an area that is solely the responsibility of state and local governments,” the COPUC added. “Although some states have chosen to use 911 surcharge funds in a manner that, from the FCC’s perspective and role, is not consistent with their intended uses, the COPUC does not believe that this is a problem for the FCC to solve. How state governments or local governments expend 911 surcharge funds is a matter that they must resolve.
“To the extent that federal funds are to be made available for use at the state and local level, it is appropriate to only make those funds available to state and local governments that spend their funds in a manner that is consistent with the statutorily allowed use of those funds,” the COPUC added.
It also recommended that the FCC “encourage states in undertaking auditing authority of providers regarding remittance of 911 surcharges” and “[c]onsider adding the topics of state MLTS [multi-line telephone system] legislation and non-surcharge-based 911 funding to future editions of the FCC’s annual report to Congress.”
The Boulder (Colo.) Regional Emergency Telephone Service Authority (BRETSA) renewed its request for the FCC “to adopt regulations and/or develop information which will (i) make auditing of 9-1-1 fee remittances feasible for local and state authorities, (ii) identify whether there is under-remittance of 9-1-1 fees on prepaid service, and (iii) address application of 9-1-1 fee requirements to evolving technologies and markets.”
BRETSA said “that recent developments call into question the accuracy of service provider remittances of 9-1-1 fees. A Colorado 9-1-1 Authority audited Colorado Emergency Telephone Charge (‘ETC’) remittances it received, reports that it identified approximately $300,000 in under-remitted ETCs. “In addition, BRETSA has noted that the monthly ETC remittances for the past two years from one provider show an unusual pattern, which draws the accuracy of the remittances into question,” it added. It said that “the ETC remittances from the provider (i) were quite stable for seven months, (ii) then spiked in one month to double the average remittances over the previous 7 months, (iii) returned to an amount slightly higher than the amount of the remittances prior to the one-month spike, and were again quite stable for 6 months before (iv) spiking again in one month to an amount 3 ½ times the remittances over the previous 6 months, and (v) then dropped almost 99%, to about 4% of the remittances during the first 7 months of 2017, and have remained quite stable.”
The situation supports “the Commission addressing 9-1-1 fee issues, and including information regarding provider remittance of 9-1-1 fees in its annual reports to Congress on 9-1-1 fees and charges,” BRETSA said.
CTIA commended the FCC “for shining a light on the unacceptable practice of state 9-1-1 fee diversion — and applauds Commissioners [Mike] O’Rielly and [Jessica] Rosenworcel in particular for their continued calls for accountability. CTIA urges further action to discourage any further diversion of 9-1-1 fees and ensure our nation’s 9-1-1 system can continue to support life-saving services for millions of wireless consumers. For example, CTIA supports the Tenth Report’s statement that going forward, where states are reporting use of 9-1-1 fees to support public safety expenditures, states must now ‘provide documentation sufficient to demonstrate that the expenditures (1) support Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) functions or operations, (2) have a reasonable nexus to PSAPs’ ability to receive 9-1-1 calls and/or dispatch emergency responders, or (3) relate to communications infrastructure that connects PSAPs[.]’ CTIA also agrees with the Tenth Report’s finding that without such documentation, the expenditure should be presumed to be a diversion of 9-1-1 fees. As discussed in greater detail below, CTIA also supports the adoption of guidelines as to what expenditures qualify as ‘in support of’ 9-1-1 and what expenditures do not.” —Paul Kirby, firstname.lastname@example.org