Two 911 issues: Cell-phone fees and combining call centers

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Much of the funding for 911 operations around Missouri comes from a fee on land-line telephones. Cell phones are considered to be radio devices and aren't subject to the 911 charge. As more individuals drop their land lines in favor of cell phones, revenue for 911 operations is dwindling. Local government entities are lobbying for legislation that would allow a 911 fee on cell phones. But some legislators, including state Sen. Jason Crowell of Cape Girardeau, say there are too many 911 centers in the states and suggest consolidation is needed.

Missouri currently has 174 911 centers. There are three 911 centers in Cape Girardeau County and five in Scott County. There are advantages to having localized emergency-call centers. For example, dispatchers are more likely to be familiar with street names and directions for reaching an emergency situation.

But Crowell suggests the state could efficiently operate with just five 911 centers for the entire state, which would mean a significant cost savings.

Consolidation is something that should be considered wherever it is prudent and would not affect the quality of service by 911 responders. The state's 174 centers may be too many, and having just five regional centers may be too few.

State Sen. John Griesheimer of Washington, Mo., sponsor of the bill calling for a statewide vote to add a fee to cell phones for 911 services, has asked the state's 911 coordinator to lead the effort to evaluate consolidation of call centers. This is a good first step.

In the meantime, adding a modest 25-cent-a-month charge to cell phone bills also appears to be a reasonable fee for so important a service. Voters have twice rejected a 911 fee for cell phones. Another vote would determine if cell-phone users recognize the need to pay a fair fee for emergency calls.

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