Commercial wireless trade association CTIA and the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) have sent a joint letter to Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle in an attempt to stop a proposal to transfer $20 million in 911 funds to the state's general fund.

Dane Snowden, CTIA's vice president of external/state affairs, said the 911 funds should be used only to benefit the emergency-calling systems in the state, not as a "rainy-day fund" that states use to balance budgets during difficult times.

"If you tell a consumer, 'I'm taking this money from you for a reason, and [the reason] is public safety,' then use it on public safety," Snowden said. "That's all we're asking.

"It doesn't make sense for them to continue collecting money — sort of like an ATM — and just use it for whatever they want to use it for under the guise of public safety."

In the letter to Doyle, CTIA and NENA noted that Congress last year passed a law guaranteeing states the right to impose and collect 911 fees, "provided that the fee or charge is obligated or expended only in support of 911 and enhanced 911 services, or enhancements of such services."

As states face budget shortfalls in a difficult economic environment, at least three states — Oregon, Hawaii and Delaware — have transferred millions of dollars from 911 coffers to their general funds, and several other states have considered taking similar actions, Snowden said. If the funds are not needed for 911 upgrades, commercial wireless carriers would prefer that states stop imposing the fees, which carriers pass on to their customers, he said.

But the funds are needed in every state, for training and especially with next-generation 911 upgrades expected during the next several years, said Patrick Halley, NENA's government affairs director.

"Here we are, as a nation and as an industry, pounding the table about the need to modernize the system. That means you have to continue to pay for and manage the current system as we invest in and transition to the next-generation system. How can we do that, if we can't appropriately accumulate capital?"

"Hawaii basically said, 'Anything that's in excess of what is currently needed, we're going to steal from.' That just completely destroys any ability to save money to migrate to the next-generation system … It's terrible."

Snowden said CTIA supports the continued collection of 911 fees to pay for 911-related purposes, including saving the money is being saved so it can be used for next-generation system to be deployed in the future.