October 25, 2014

Debating support of emergency 911 services

Legislators have abandoned the idea of raising the monthly surcharge cell phone users pay to support Emergency 911 call centers. Instead, a bill pending in the Iowa House would impose a new, 33-cent surcharge on pre-paid cell phones and phone cards to raise money for 911 service.

Representative Roger Thomas, a Democrat from Elkader, isn’t convinced that’s the right move.

“This goes after, you know, the people that don’t have the money, so they buy the minutes as they go,” Thomas says. “It hurts the poorer folks that are trying to have cell phone coverage.”

Iowans with a land-line pay a dollar per month on their phone bills to support emergency 911 service, but people who have cell phone plans pay 65-cents per month. Cell phone companies lobbied against raising that monthly fee to a dollar. Thomas argues that’s what should happen to help 911 services install new equipment to track calls for help that come from a cell phone.

“I only pay 65 cents on my cell phone,” Thomas says. “What’s another few cents to have 911 protection.”

Supporters of placing the new fee on pre-paid cell phones and phone cards say people can use them to call 911 and it’s only fair those users pay to update 911 service, too. That plan has won approval in the Iowa Senate and is eligible for consideration in the Iowa House.