Local Governments Say AT&T, Verizon Aren’t Paying 911 Fees

Image courtesy of Adam Reker

In much of the country, local 911 call centers are funded from mandatory fees of around $1/line placed on phone bills. However, recently filed lawsuits allege that AT&T, Verizon and others are slashing the 911 fees they charge business customers, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars uncollected. 

The Wall Street Journal reports that a number of local governments say the telecom companies are offering deep discounts on 911 fees to corporate customers in an effort to keep their business, but these discounts have created a shortfall of nearly $600 million for 911 call centers nationwide.

According to the Federal Communications Commission, just a dozen states said they collected enough fees from telecom companies to cover their 911 spending for the year.

Delaware County, in Pennsylvania, is one jurisdiction that has filed suit against a dozen phone companies, alleging it only receives 911 fees from just 230,000 out of 812,000 lines.

Without fees from those 582,000 lines, the county says it’s missing out on $7 million a year for its 911 service.

Elsewhere in Pennsylvania, 15 jurisdictions have filed suit against dozens of phone companies, alleging they are missing out on more than $67 million in fees, the WSJ reports.

While some local governments have been able to look elsewhere for fees, most are forced to put off technology upgrades or hiring dispatchers.

A lack of upgrades and staff only exacerbates an already stressed system. The WSJ reports that outages at some of the 6,000 call centers nationwide have become more common.

When outages occur, federal regulators also go after the telecom companies. In the past 18 months, the WSJ reports the FCC has settled with five operators for nearly $40 million as a result of outages.

In July 2015, T-Mobile agreed to pay $17.5 million after a nationwide outage. Before that, in April 2015, the FCC fined CenturyLink $16 million for its actions during a massive 911 outage.

In March 2015, Verizon was required to pay $3.4 million for failing to notify officials of a large scale 911 service outage in April 2014.

Although the FCC has been able to go after phone providers once an outage occurs, counties seeking to recoup missing fees have a more difficult time, especially when it comes to providing evidence.

The WSJ reports that in January, a federal judge dismissed a suit against AT&T after finding the 10 Tennessee counties that had filed the suit failed to provide adequate evidence that the company failed to collect millions of dollars in 911 fees from business customers.

Some local officials tell the WSJ that collecting that data is nearly impossible, because they don’t have access to the phone companies’ records.

“We would get a check from them and that was it,”  a Delaware County councilman tells the WSJ.

Reps for AT&T and Verizon tell the WSJ they both comply with local laws related to 911 fees.

Some 911 Fees Go Unpaid by Phone Companies, Lawsuit Says [The Wall Street Journal]