This Cell Phone Surcharge You Pay Every Month Doesn’t Completely Fund 911 System Upgrades

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Individuals rely on dialing 911 when faced with an emergency hoping services will be reliable, but many counties have outdated systems despite taxpayers paying their share.
 
“It’s progressing much more rapidly than we have funding to accommodate, and that’s the bottom line,” Chemung County Fire and Emergency Management Director Mark Cicora said. 
 
If you take a look at the breakdown of your monthly cell phone bill, you’ll find a charge worth $1.20 labeled as a Public Safety Communications surcharge – formally labeled the E911 charge. 
 
This money coming out of your pocket goes to the state and Cicora says a large percentage should be distributed to counties to help update and modernize each area’s 911 system, but according to the Associated Press, over the past five years in New York, 42 percent of the $945 million dollars raised with this fee alone went somewhere else – to the state’s general fund.
 
Chemung County received 10 percent of what it actually needs to keep up with new advances and guidelines of “next generation 911.” The remaining 90 percent comes from taxpayer money. 
 
Additionally, about 240 million calls dial into 911 every year across the nation – about 70 percent of those calls come from cell phones, but outdated technology makes it hard for systems to pinpoint the location of callers as opposed to landlines. 
 
“There’s no three dimensionality to the location, so we wouldn’t know what floor the caller was on or what apartment they may be in,” Cicora said. “Current guidelines being written address that issue, but the problem is… that’s an enormous investment.”
 
Cicora adds that those with prepaid cell phones aren’t required to pay these government taxes and fees.
 
“They have the availability to use the system, but they are not contributing to the system, and that’s a problem, and New York State needs to address that issue.” Cicora said. 
 
In a statement, Kristin Devoe of the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services in Albany says, “Over the past 12 years, the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services has provided more than $400 million for counties to enhance their response capabilities and, since 2010 alone, the Division has distributed over $48 million in grants to counties specifically to support operations and improvements for 9-1-1 operations.  This grant is funded directly from a state charge for state purposes, which also includes public safety initiatives to strengthen regional partnerships, formalize governance, and implement operating procedures between counties and first response agencies.  While there are 47 counties that have the ability to collect their own cellular surcharges, we remain committed to making the critical investments necessary to protect public safety.”
 
Cicora says over 2.2 billion dollars is needed to update all systems across New York State. 

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