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Radio News: FCC commissioners decry states stealing 911 funds

Feb 11, 2018 10:50 pm
Jon Brodkin in Ars Technica reports that FCC Commissioners Michael O'Rielly and Jessica Rosenworcel rarely agree on anything. The Republican and Democrat on the commission are about as far apart on most issues as two people could be. But the two wrote an op-ed in The Hill Feb. 9 complaining about states stealing money meant to support emergency calling services, and using it for their general funds. On everyone's phone bills, there is a line item for 911 service, and those funds are meant to keep those emergency services running. But in 2016, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Illinois, New Jersey, and West Virginia "diverted" 911 funds totaling $128.9 million to their own uses. Seven other states wouldn't even tell the FCC what they are doing with the money. New York, for instance, did not submit a report about the matter to the FCC, "but sufficient public record information exists to support a finding that New York diverted funds for non-public safety uses," according to the FCC. Besides lying to consumers, diverting 911 fees "can be tragic," the two commissioners wrote. "It can lead to understaffed calling centers, longer wait times in an emergency, and sluggish dispatch for public safety personnel. It also will slow the ability of 911 call centers to update their systems to support digital age technologies." O'Rielly and Rosenworcel propose threatening states that divert 911 funds with loss of federal public safety programs funding. "We also may need to examine more aggressive actions at the FCC's disposal," they wrote.