House committee unveils Telecom Act rewrite draft
Staff members for the House Energy and Commerce Committee today released draft legislation to revamp the 1996 Telecommunications Act that includes language that effectively would require voice-over-IP service providers to contribute to 911 and E911 funding.
Current law stipulates that only certified telecommunication companies—most notably, incumbent telephone companies—can be required to contribute to 911 funds. Typically, this is done through a fee included on users’ phone bills, and that money is forwarded to the public entity delivering emergency-calling services.
Many public-safety officials have expressed concern that the growing popularity of VoIP services would result in significant decreases in funding used to support the emergency-calling infrastructure, including public-safety answering points. In May, the FCC ruled that VoIP service providers must provide 911 and E911 services through the legacy emergency-calling system in November, but that order did not address the funding issue.
If approved—something most political analysts do not believe will occur this year—the legislative proposal would let governmental entities impose and collect fees to support 911 and E911 service. However, the proposed language also requires the collecting entity to use this revenue solely to support emergency-calling services. Many critics have noted that current E911 fees often are redirected by budget-strapped governments to pay for items not related to the 911 program.