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Pai: ‘Unacceptable’

State 911 Fee Report Shows Less Diversion, More Work to Do

Five states diverted nearly $198 million, or 7.6 percent of all 911 fee revenue, for unrelated purposes in 2018, the FCC reported. That dropped about $87 million from 2017. FCC members said Thursday that any reshuffling is inappropriate.

States collected more than $2.6 billion in 2018 for 911. New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and West Virginia diverted fees for other purposes, the report said: at least one Nevada county diverted, though that didn’t occur at the state level. All five states were repeat offenders (see 1812190059); they didn’t comment. American Samoa didn’t respond to FCC queries. Other territories, all 50 states and the District of Columbia did. Montana and the U.S. Virgin Islands, flagged in last year’s report, didn’t repeat.

This is unacceptable,” Chairman Ajit Pai said. “While this year’s numbers show movement in the right direction, there is still more work to be done to ensure that all money is spent on 911-related services.” Pai applauded work by Congress. Some say that's unlikely to advance until the new year (see 1912130046).

Despite progress reducing diverters and getting more states to respond to FCC queries, "the same pitiful states continue to raid consumer-paid funds for unrelated purposes, and one additional territory didn’t bother to respond,” said Commissioner Mike O’Rielly. He's glad “such downright thievery is receiving greater scrutiny by the Commission and generating serious legislative proposals by key Congressional leaders.”

New Jersey was the worst 2018 offender. It used 74.9 percent ($92 million) of collected fees for other things. Rhode Island moved 66.9 percent ($10.5 million). New York shifted 47 percent ($94.3 million), down from 90.4 percent ($170.9 million) in 2017. West Virginia diverted 1.57 percent ($1 million).

State 911 administrators make the most of what resources they have, National Association of State 911 Administrators Executive Director Harriet Rennie-Brown told us. Legislatures decide how to use state 911 fees; it’s “important to remember that the state 911 office doesn't get a say,” she said. Diversion hurts emergency-response systems and “undermines the integrity” of 911 fees because taxpayers think they’re paying for something they’re not, she said.

The National Emergency Number Association is “encouraged by the downward trend,” but any misuse “puts one of the nation’s most critical systems at risk” and “breaks the trust established with the public,” emailed NENA Government Affairs Director Dan Henry. “Unfortunately, some states continue to see 9-1-1 revenues as a funding source for other programs. Funds the public remits in good faith specifically for 9-1-1 purposes must be used to further 9-1-1’s most basic purpose: to ensure that 9-1-1 callers receive an effective emergency response.” Money is needed to maintain current service levels and for next-generation 911, he said.

D.C., Puerto Rico and 36 states spent $228.5 million on NG-911 in 2018, about 9 percent of 911 fees collected, the report said. Six states didn’t report how much they spent on NG-911, while 14 states, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands reported none. The FCC found 18 states deployed statewide ESInets, 14 had regional ESInets and nine had local-level ESInets. Respondents reported 2,093 public safety answering points as text-capable by the end of 2018 and projected that another 1,039 PSAPs would be by year-end 2019. The District and 18 states spent funds on PSAP cybersecurity in 2018, but 31 states and three territories said they didn’t.