Does your 911 Funding Legislation Reflect the Current Mobile Telecom Environment?
PSAP accessible services have been moving away from legacy local exchange carrier services toward newer services and technologies such as wireless mobile phones and VoIP services for some time. Unfortunately, in many jurisdictions, applicable 911 funding legislation does fully reflect this change or needs to be written in such a way as to make room for new technologies such as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services. As a result, many jurisdictions need help to obtain sufficient funding under outdated legislation. What are some of the key points to consider when drafting new legislation?
- Equitableness of Funding Mechanism
- Understanding Federal Requirements
- Definition Considerations
Let’s look at each.
Equitableness of Funding Mechanisms
Historically, many jurisdictions made distinctions between business and residential lines. Today, that line has blurred with a highly mobile workforce. Except for prepaid wireless services, the majority of the U.S. now uses a uniform flat fee for all services which access 911 with no distinction between business and residential lines. Some states set a tiered progressive fee based on the number of lines a subscriber uses. The fee per line decreases or ceases as the number of lines increases. A business using a larger number of lines will benefit and pay less. Finally, a few states use other mechanisms, such as tariff fees or property taxes.
Specific fees may be enacted by law, set on a percentage basis, or set by a governing board. Jurisdictions drafting legislation should consider the ease or difficulty of adjusting rates based on changes to the economic environment.
Understanding Federal Requirements
Federal laws and regulations govern many aspects of 911 legislation. A highly mobile population and their communication devices present unique challenges to both 911 service providers and telecom providers. On the one hand, 911 service providers need a dispatchable location for anyone requiring emergency service within their area who would like to receive funding for such services. On the other hand, telecom providers are tasked with how to provide dispatchable locations and how to bill subscribers based on their “primary place of use.”
In the United States, federal law 4.S.S.C §122 sets a requirement related to the “Primary Place of Use.” In essence, it says that states charging a tax, fee, or surcharge for mobile telecommunications services must depend on the primary place of use as given in good faith by the service provider. The service provider need only rely on the residential or business address provided by the customer and cannot be held liable for additional taxes, fees, or charges if the customer does not provide an accurate address.
The FCC has adopted rules under Section 506 of Ray Baum’s Act to ensure that “dispatchable location” information is conveyed with 911 calls so that first responders can more quickly locate the caller. These include fixed telephone, interconnected VoIP services, Internet-based Telecommunications Relay Services (TGRS), and mobile text service. But how are these requirements met by VoIP service providers, given that their subscribers may use the service from anywhere?
Regulations have been adopted which require VoIP service providers to obtain from customers, before the initiation of service, the “Registered Location” at which the service will first be used. The service provider must provide the end users with one or more methods of updating their registered location, including at least one option that requires the use only of the CPE necessary to access the interconnected VoIP service. The service provider must also identify whether the service is being used to call 911 from a different location than the Registered Location and, if so, either 1) Prompt the customer to provide a new Registered Location or 2) update the Registered Location without requiring additional action by the customer.
Funding legislation must include several definitions to avoid ambiguity. These definitions also need to be consistent with federal requirements. Currently, the number and language for definitions vary widely among states.
Definitions should be broad enough to encompass new technologies: Colorado defines “911 Access Connection” to mean “any communications service including wireline, wireless cellular, interconnected Voice-Over-Internet Protocol, or Satellite in which connections are enabled, configured, or capable of making 911 calls” while Hawaii uses the term “Communications service connection” to mean “each telephone number or a device’s unique identifier assigned to a residential or commercial subscriber by a communications service provider, without regard to technology deployed.”
Definitions must also be consistent with federal requirements. For example, challenges arise when defining a subscriber and considering requirements for Primary Place of Use and VoIP Dispatchable Location. For instance, Pennsylvania defines an “Interconnected Voice over Internet Protocol service subscriber.” As a person billed by an interconnected Voice over Internet Protocol provider, who is the end user of VoIP service and has designated a place of primary use within this Commonwealth.
Reviewing relevant legislation can be critical in assessing agency readiness for new solutions.
Winbourne has provided consulting services to public safety agencies for over 20 years. Our professionals are ready to assist your agency with assessing readiness, procuring, and providing implementation guidance for various public safety solutions, including CAD and RMS. Contact us for your agency’s needs.
About the Author: Renee is a Senior Consultant with Winbourne Consulting. She maintains an active law license and specializes in System Development Lifecycle (SDLC), 911, law enforcement, and integrated justice systems.