FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly yesterday sent a letter to the governors of New York, Oklahoma, Missouri, Montana, Puerto Rico, the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam, criticizing those governments for not responding to the FCC’s request to report on 911 deployments and whether they diverted 911 fees for non-911 uses.

O’Rielly noted that the FCC provides the self-reported 911 information from states and territories to Congress, which “has the important job of determining what policies may be needed to ensure that sufficient funds are provided for 911 services.”

“Unfortunately, seven states and territories failed to provide the FCC with this needed information. Today’s letter calls on these states and territories to immediately rectify this issue,” O’Rielly said in a prepared statement. “The diversion of 9-1-1 fees can lead to understaffed calling centers, longer wait times in an emergency, or the inability to upgrade to next generation systems.  This is of critical significance to public safety, and simply ignoring the Commission’s inquiry can no longer be an option.”   

States’ diversion of 911 fees—often referenced as 911 fund “raiding” —that typically are collected through phone bills has long been a source of concern within the U.S. emergency-calling community. In some state, these funds are used to pay for other public-safety-related expenses; in other states, the money has been used to support the state government’s general fund, particularly during cycles when states face cycles that make it difficult to produce a balanced budget.

Earlier this month, the FCC released its annual report about 911, noting that five states—Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, Rhode Island and West Virginia—self-reported that they diverted $128.9 million in 911 fees for other purposes. The FCC report added New York to the list, noting that there was enough evidence of 911 fee diversion in the state to reach this conclusion.

In his letter to the governors of the seven states and territories that did not report the 911 information, O’Rielly described the inaction as “beyond disappointing.”

“Inexplicably, in many instances, officials under your leadership failed to respond to our last request for such information,” O’Reilly stated in the letter. “At the very least, given the importance of this information, you should have been aware of the impending failure to respond.

“This suggests that addressing your 911 system or NG911 capabilities is not as high of a priority for your state or territory as it should be. It is beyond disappointing, as it is hard to imagine what could be more important to the lives and well-being of your residents than a well-functioning 911 system.”

In addition, O’Rielly noted that all four states and three territories that failed to provide the requested 911 information this time also have diverted funds or failed to report in the past.

“Since your states and territories have either been a self-admitted diverter of 911 fees in the past or guilty of failing to respond to a previous inquiry, it can only be assumed that your state or territory diverted 9-1-1 fees for 2016,” O’Rielly’s letter states.