Ohio’s 911 centers need your help!
Nearly 80% of the 911 calls place in Ohio each year are from wireless devices. The Ohio House of Representatives will soon consider legislation to amend Ohio Revised Code Section 128 as it applies to providing Next Generation 911 (NG911) in Ohio. NG911 is necessary in order to effectively handle the millions of wireless calls that are placed to 911 in Ohio each year. It will provide faster call processing, better voice clarity, enhanced location information thru the use of geographical information systems, the ability to receive text, images, and video, and many more enhancements that will result in wireless 911 calls being handled more efficiently and effectively. Locating wireless 911 callers is a complicated process and NG911 will greatly improve the process. Tragedies like the 2018 death of 16 year old Kyle Plush in Cincinnati must be avoided in the future by having the best technology in place.
A statewide NG911 system does not currently exist in our state. In order to build the system, the State of Ohio will contract with a vendor to build the Core, a computer system that will handle much of the call processing, as well as the ESINET, a vast, high speed fiber optic computer network that will connect to every 911 center in the state. The third and final component will be the equipment located at each of the 911 centers in the state. This equipment will including new and updated telephone systems, improved voice recorders, advanced mapping technology, enhanced software solutions, and many more updates.
Wireless 911 call handling in Ohio is currently financially supported thru a twenty-five cent surcharge on each wireless cellular device billed in the state, with 97% of the $27 million dollars collected provided to the counties to help offset a small percentage of the cost of handling wireless calls. The distribution of this money is based on population since it goes by the billing address of the wireless device. Because of this, 39 counties in the state receive $100,000.00 or less each year to help provide wireless 911 services.
The Ohio 911 surcharge is the second lowest in the entire nation and has actually been decreased several times by the legislature from the original level of 32 cents back in 2008. In 2012 the wireless surcharge made up an average of 14.3% of each 911 center budget. Today that number is only 3.4%. Under the new proposed legislation, the fee will be changed to what is known as a universal device fee (UDF). This means that the fee will be applied to any device that can call 911, which will include not only the wireless devices that paid before but also all landlines and voice over IP phones in the state.
The total anticipated collection from the new UDF will be approximately 39 million dollars. The state portion of the project including the Core and ESINET has already been bid at just over 12 million dollars per year for ten years. This means that the net amount available to be distributed to the counties, based on all current estimates, will be only slightly more than they receive now. In fact, if the anticipated extra revenue was divided evenly, it would only amount to about $18,000.00 per county.
So how important is this surcharge to the 911 centers in Ohio. Let’s look at one example of what inadequate funding has done to our system. Only 23 Ohio counties currently have the ability to receive text to 911 emergency notifications. The reason for that is that many counties just can’t afford to purchase this first, but very important piece of NG911. With many thousands of domestic violence and deaf callers trying to access 911 each year, text to 911 has become a lifeline to those in need. But with only 23 counties having this capability, many of the citizens of our state are denied this vital service. In comparison, in the state of Indiana, where the surcharge fee is $1.00 and counties receive much more funding, every one of the 92 counties in the state have had text to 911 service since 2016. Clearly Ohio is not doing it right.
In closing I ask for your support in asking the Ohio Legislature to increase the proposed Universal Device Fee. An increase of only twenty-five cents would result in $39 million more dollars going to our 911 centers. With the average wireless phone bill currently $127.37 a month, I certainly hope you can agree that even a twenty-five cent increase would not hurt anyone’s pocket book. Our 911 centers cannot afford the time or money to lobby our elected officials. Instead, we are asking you to do it. After all, you are the people who deserve the best 911 possible. Please contact your Representative, Senator, and local elected officials immediately. Tell them to support increased funding for 911.