911 Fee Diversion Task Force - Report: Recommends Study of Penalties

Updated: Sep 23, 2021

Report Adopted 9/17/21 (TR Daily Article)

September 17, 2021


The FCC’s Ending 9-1-1 Fee Diversion Now Strike Force, which Congress directed the FCC to establish in the Don’t Break Up the T-Band Act of 2020, today adopted a report with recommendations for ending the use of 911 fees for other purposes by state and local governments and others—including recommendations related to individual and agency accountability for fee diversion, refinement of the FCC’s definition of fee diversion, additional authority for the FCC in requiring full reporting on the use of fees.


911 Strike Force Report - https://lnkd.in/dmw3ms77


YouTube Recording of Meeting - https://www.fcc.gov/news-events/events/2021/09/ending-9-1-1-fee-diversion-now-strike-force-advisory-committee-meeting


Meeting Presentation - https://b8d2ce42-eb7a-49c5-841f-9c5e2ad23b13.usrfiles.com/ugd/b8d2ce_42eb51cc10bd44d7bde342a0aa047212.pptx


Strikeforce Homepage - https://www.fcc.gov/911strikeforce


Although there was time allotted for public comment and discussion by strike force and working group members, no comment or discussion was offered. The strike force adopted the report by a 15-0 vote, with two members not present.


The strike force faced a Sept. 23 deadline to submit the report and recommendations to Congress.

While the strike force agrees that the FCC should engage in direct enforcement against 911 fee diversion, which could include escalating fines, FCC licensing enforcement actions, and criminal referrals, it called for “further study to understand what the potential impact of any of those actions would have on public safety,” strike force Vice Chair Steven Sharpe, director-emergency communications for Genesee County, N.Y., who is representing the New York State 911 Coordinators Association, explained during a presentation on the report at today’s online meeting of the strike force.

“Currently the FCC report and order has states responsible for the actions of the local agencies,” and under federal grant guidance, local public safety communications agencies are held responsible for diversion of 911 fees by state legislatures, making the local agencies ineligible for federal 911 grants, Mr. Sharpe explained. The strike force, however, believes that state and local government entities should each be held responsible only for their own actions.


The report finds that the FCC needs “additional authority to ensure local agencies are providing information to states for the compilation of their annual report to the Congress. The FCC collection methodology may require adjustment to assist in this effort.”


In addition, the FCC’s definition of fee diversion “requires refinement to ensure that 911 fees directly support the entire 911 communications ecosystem between the 911 ‘entry point’ and first responders.” The allowable uses of 911 fees should include funding any communication system, technology, or support activity that enables the delivery of voice and data information from the entry point to the 911 system and first responders, according to the report.


Examples includes legacy 911, next generation 911, 911 geographic information systems (GIS), cybersecurity for 911 and public safety answering points (PSAP), equipment and services used for emergency notification systems, communication systems that support communications between PSAPs and first responders, call-processing equipment, computer aided dispatch, and training of public safety communications officials.


Ineligible uses would include commercial communications systems that operate before the entry to the 911 system, land mobile radio assets that support jail and prison operations, and “LTE subscription plans that do not directly support delivery of data and information between the 911 request for assistance and the first responder.”


The recommended changes in the definition could result in some entities currently seen as fee diverters as no longer being so, and vice versa.


It also recommends that 911 agencies be eligible for federal grants for public safety communications; that funding for such federal grants be increased, with an eye toward funding the functions under the expanded definition of allowable uses of 911 fees; that state and local agencies that divert 911 fees be ineligible for federal grants that support 911; and that local agencies that divert 911 fees should not receive support from such federal grants indirectly through states.


The report recommends that the FCC include a question about whether the applicant diverts 911 fees on the license application for public safety spectrum licenses and that no entity that diverts 911 fees be eligible for a new license or a license renewal or modifications “until it has provided an approved remediation plan as determined by the FCC. The remediation plan process should follow a progressive approach to FCC licensing enforcement actions that allows time for remediation before FCC licenses are impacted.”


It recommends that the FCC require carriers to include any 911 fees as a separate line item on end-users’ bills.


As for potential criminal penalties for fee diverters, the report concludes that such penalties may help further prevent diversion of 911 fees but that any such penalties should be limited to monetary fines or forfeitures.


In a statement, acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said, “It’s a simple fact that when consumers pay 911 fees on their phone bills, that money should be used to fund 911. But it’s a complex problem that 911 fees are too often diverted to other uses, which delays much-needed upgrades to America’s aging 911 system to keep pace with the digital age.”


Praising the efforts of the strike force, she said, “Members of the Strike Force and its working groups worked with a steady hand and under tight deadlines all summer—amidst the wildfires, hurricanes, pandemic, and other challenges facing the public safety community—to deliver the report adopted today.” —Lynn Stanton, lynn.stanton@wolterskluwer.com


AGENDA

10:00 AM - Call to Order – John Evanoff, 911 Strike Force Designated Federal Officer (DFO) – Chief, Policy and Licensing Division, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, Federal Communications Commission (FCC)

10:05 AM - Welcome by Lisa M. Fowlkes, Chief, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, FCC

10:10 AM - Brief Remarks and Roll Call by Kelli Merriweather, Chair of the 911 Strike Force – Executive Director of the Texas Commission on State Emergency Communications, representing the National Association of State 911 Administrators (NASNA), as NASNA’s President

10:15 AM - Executive Summary of 911 Strike Force Recommendations by Steven Sharpe, EdD, Vice-Chair of the 911 Strike Force – Director of Genesee County, New York Emergency Communications, representing the New York State 911 Coordinators Association

10:25 AM - Presentation of Recommendations

  • Working Group 1 – Effectiveness of Federal Laws in Ending 911 Fee Diversion

  • Budge Currier, Chair – 911 Branch Manager, California Office of Emergency Services

  • Daryl Branson, Vice-Chair – State 911 Program Manager, Colorado Public Utilities Commission


  • Working Group 2 – Criminal Penalties to Further Prevent 911 Fee Diversion

  • Richard Bradford, Chair – Special Deputy Attorney General, Office of Attorney General, North Carolina Department of Justice

  • Thaddeus Johnson, Vice-Chair – Assistant People’s Counsel at the Washington, DC Office of the People’s Counsel, representing the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates (NASUCA)


  • Working Group 3 – Impacts of 911 Fee Diversion

  • Karima Holmes, Chair – Senior Director, ShotSpotter, representing 911der Women, Inc.

  • Dana Wahlberg, Vice-Chair – Director of the Department of Public Safety Emergency Communications Networks, Minnesota Department of Public Safety


  • Conclusion by Kelli Merriweather, Chair of the 911 Strike Force

11:00 AM - Questions from the Public

11:15 AM - 911 Strike Force Discussion of Recommendations and Vote by 911 Strike Force Members

  • Discussion and vote conducted by Kelli Merriweather, Chair of the 911 Strike Force

11:45 AM - Adjournment

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