Sharing the cost of 9-1-1 services

By Paul Evans of Monmouth, Oregon. Paul is a former senior policy advisor to Governor Ted Kulongoski for emergency management, military, and veterans' affairs. Paul is the former mayor of Monmouth, Oregon, and an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran.

If I didn't know better I would believe it was a poorly written plot in a straight to DVD movie.

Sadly, it is our reality. House Bill 2075 - a thoughtful, well-crafted bill seeking to remedy a loophole in how we pay for emergency services has been put on ice -potentially permanently - by the powerful telecommunications lobby.

Under ordinary circumstances this would be bad policy; in the wake of the recent earthquakes and tsunamis - it is far worse.

In over twenty-two years of public involvement at the local, state, and regional level, I have rarely seen anything as blatantly self-serving as the drama playing out (or not) in the Oregon Legislature on HB 2075.

Public safety responders, 9-1-1 Emergency Dispatchers, all of us directly paying for 9-1-1 services via mandatory fees on our home and cellular phones believe all people should be treated fairly. Oregonians across the spectrum believe shared services should be paid for by all benefiting from those services.

Evidently, this traditional view of shared responsibility is foundering on the shoals in Salem. Standing against the public good are four of the largest national telecommunications companies, freeloaders, drug-dealers, and people with a need for expendable, hard-to-trace phones. These interests seek to sustain the loophole - and unless we do something soon - they will.

These interests are content with the status quo: we pay, and they don't - even though they receive our same services. With respect to Orwell, all phones are not equal, at least not yet.

Regardless of the propagandist skullduggery of the telecommunications leviathan this is a simple, straightforward piece of legislation.

Nearly a quarter of all telecommunications devices in use are not taxed the 9-1-1 service fees required of all other home and cellular phones to provide emergency 9-1-1 call service.

HB 2075 will provide a mechanism for all phones (including prepaid/tracphones) to be subject to the same tax for the same reasons. The missing $8 Million - $20 Million (figures vary on the lost revenues) will make the difference between sustaining what we have or reductions in 9-1-1 services that will delay emergency assistance and as a result deny critical care.

While new taxes - revenues taken from something, for something - are rightly scrutinized in this budget climate; HB 2075 is not about imposing a new tax. It closes a loophole that should never have existed.

Technology changed, and it was only the political power of the telecommunications lobby and the relatively "good" economic times that prevented rational, system-wide 9-1-1 fee assessment and implementation policies from being enacted.

Call your Legislators; email your elected leadership. Tell them enough is enough: 9-1-1 is important and deserves to be funded by ALL who benefit from its life-saving services.

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    Excellent post, Paul. The Democrats on the committee are working hard to get this through. This is enormously important - recent events have shown how critical it is to have a strong 9-1-1 system.

    The vast majority of us are paying our fair share into the system that protects all of us. It's time to end the loophole. Thanks for your help!

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      Out of curiosity, what is the D. position on the new mileage fee for electric cars. I know its not a perfect analogy with this issue, but it is also a case of technology and "user fee"/tax structure getting out of sync.

      Should we impose a mileage fee on electric cars to take into account the road maintenance/construction portion of the gas tax?

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    As a Washington resident I make it a point to avoid sticking my nose into Oregon politics, but I can't resist a response to the description of prepaid cell phone users as "freeloaders and drug dealers . . .".

    I suspect there are quite a few people in Oregon (and elsewhere) who lack the credit history (or Social Security number) to qualify for the latest Verizon iPhone plan, and who use prepaid cell phones as their only alternative. Whether or not it is good social policy to impose additional fees on such people to pay for 911 service is a question I leave to others, but I strongly object to the slur against prepaid cell phone users as criminals or quasi-criminals.

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    Paul, great post. This is a case study in how corporations can get self serving benefits because the public is unaware and there is no one to really represent them. I hope that you submit this as an oped to the Oregonian or the Statesman Journal and shine some light on this issue.

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    As a board member at the Washington County Consolidated Communications Agency (WCCCA), which serves the 911 needs of the county, we were very saddened to see this bill get squashed by the very telecommunications companies that directly benefit from and encourage the necessary updates in technology.

    Everyone wants effective technology, well-trained and experienced staff and 24/7 service for 911 calls. Everyone benefits from it, and I cannot understand how the telecoms justify their position on pre-paid cell phones with the excuse that they can't figure out how to bill the users for such a necessary charge. Evidently, they don't care enough about the health and safety of their customers to ensure 911 service gets funded properly.

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    Frankly if the reader did not already know what the issues behind HB 2075 are you would not understand this article until you were midway through it. Yes, I will contact my Rep. and Sen. and urge support for HB 2075. The vendor could build the tax into the price of the phone.

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