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Tennessee lawmakers considering new 911 funding model

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Lawmakers in Tennessee are considering legislation that would transform the 911 funding model in a manner that is designed to reflect the technologies used by citizens to make emergency calls.

By Michael Mahn

Keep your eye on Tennessee, where legislation is advancing that will transform funding to stay in step with advances in technology. House Bill 2255 and Senate Bill 2407 were introduced by the Majority Leaders of the State House & Senate, showing exceptional legislative support.

This was a result of collaborative efforts by carriers (led by AT&T and Verizon) and public-safety consumers (state ENA chapter and non-profit organization, TN911) to produce a 'revenue neutral' result that stabilizes multiple and fluctuating 911 revenue streams with a uniform fee applicable to all devices having access to the 911 pathway—pre-paid cell phones and VoIP offerings are included—and whatever later creations emerge from the tech world.

The bill still needs adjustments, in my opinion, but the lack of perfection does not diminish the greater good of bringing more certainty to the financial foundation of public-safety communications.

Finding the balance between public-entity funding and user-based fees must be done on a state-by-state basis. Perhaps the most effective approach is to use statutory distinctions and preferences (as contrasted with mandates and prohibitions) for the application of revenue toward infrastructure and communications architecture versus personnel and other soft costs, but leaving broad deference to local authorities as to the specific allocation of available resources. After all, public safety is local—like real estate, it is all about location, location, location.

If there is one very clear prohibition in Tennessee law, it is that 911 revenues may not be used for general government purposes, state or local—100% of 911 revenue is dedicated to 911. Without such a commitment at the onset, user-based fees become just one more form of taxation flowing into a bottomless pit of general government revenue, and 911 must stand in line (and play competitive-agency politics) to seek its fair share. The lack of such a principle chills carriers, who fear being transformed into general government tax collectors rather than being agents serving customers that derive public-safety benefit from their 911 fees.

Discuss this Blog Entry 1

Carolann Mason (not verified)
on Mar 18, 2014

FYI to everyone that reads this article. Mike Mahn is NOT legal counsel to all of the TN 9-1-1 districts. He is on retainer with several TN districts but not any where near a majority of them.
As for Fayette Co. E9-1-1 district this article DOESNT speak for my district !!!!!!!

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