Slight uptick in cell phone fees would boost 9-1-1 service

By COLTON WOOD
Capital News Service

LANSING — If you call a 9-1-1 operator in Michigan on a cell phone, that operator may soon be able to better  pinpoint your location.

A bill working its way through the Legislature would raise the cost of monthly cell phone plans to provide money to improve 9-1-1 service.

“The 9-1-1 system in Michigan is right out of money and it’s ready to collapse,” said Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, the sponsor of the bill.

“9-1-1 in most counties is set up to find landlines, and landlines seem to be going away with the dinosaur as more and more people switch to cell phones only. So we must have the technology so we can find where somebody is who is calling for help from a cell phone,” Jones said.  

The increase in phone bills, however, would be minimal, adding just 6 cents per month for each line.

“If you have a contract to have a phone, it would go – currently it’s 19 cents per device and it would go to 25,” Jones said. “Basically, we’re talking about the average person that gets contracted to 72 cents more a year. That’s not much for the safety of being able to call and get help when they need it.”

Overall, the higher fee would bring in $48.8 million a year, up from $28.5 million, according to the Senate Fiscal Agency.

“I think that 6 cents is probably worth the possibility of saving a life,” Traverse City resident Matt Fisher said.

“Also, I don’t think that the bill would be proposed if there was not a significant benefit that law enforcement saw as necessary,” Fisher said.

The Senate approved the bill and sent it to the House Committee on Communication and Technology. Rep. Gary Glenn, R-Midland, cast the only no vote on the committee. The bill now goes to the House floor for a vote.

Jones said, “Many times, someone who calls 9-1-1, they can be having a heart attack, they can be in a car accident, some horrible situation and they’re not able to tell the operator where they’re at. With this additional funding, it will ensure that the technology is throughout the state, and 9-1-1 can find somebody and, hopefully, get the proper people there to save them.”

Some Michigan residents may actually see a decrease on their phone bills if the legislation   becomes law.

Scott Stevenson, the president of the Telecommunications Association of Michigan, said, “Our overall opinion is this bill takes care of an important funding issue related to next-generation 9-1-1, and without it Michigan counties would have a more difficult time transitioning to that new, more advanced network.”

The bill, if passed, would move the technical surcharge fee on all phone bills to a statewide basis.

Although the proposal would raise the state surcharge, another change would lower other surcharges, Stevenson said.

“So for many customers, particularly in rural Michigan, they’re going to see a net decrease on their surcharge,” he said.