The FCC recently released its tenth annual report to Congress reporting on the collection and distribution of 911 fees nationwide. The report includes a number of interesting statistics, a few which will be listed below.
But first I’d like to look backwards a bit because we now take 911 for granted, but it hasn’t always been so. 911 has been implemented during my adult lifetime. The idea for having an emergency phone number was first introduced in 1967 by Lyndon Johnson’s Commission on Law Enforcement. AT&T selected the 9-1-1 digits the following year. An independent telco, the Alabama Telephone Company leaped on the concept and introduced 911 in Haleyville, Alabama in 1968 – but it then took decades for the implementation nationwide since this was deemed a local issue to be implemented by local governments. I recall the introduction of 911 in the DC suburbs in the mid-70s, accompanied by a flurry of radio, newspaper and TV ads to inform the public of the new safety service. There were major metropolitan areas like the Chicago suburbs that didn’t get 911 until the early 1980s.
911 service has been enhanced over the years. For example, by 2015 96% of homes in the US were covered by E-911 (enhanced) where the 911 operator knows the caller’s location according to the phone number for landlines or by using triangulation of cell sites for mobile phones. Currently 911 systems are upgrading to NG911 (next generation) that ties 911 systems into broadband to be able to relay text messages, photos and videos as part of the 911 process.
Some of the interesting statistics from the FCC report:
- In 2017 almost $3 billion was collected in 911 fees to fund local 911 efforts. The total cost to provide 911 was reported at $4.8 billion, with 911 services in many states also funded partially by tax revenues.
- States collect 911 fees in different ways. This includes flat rates per telephone or cellular lines, percentage of telecommunications bills, and flat rate per subscriber. Fees vary widely and range from $0.20 per residential landline in Arizona to $3.34 in West Virginia per cell phone. There are states that charge eve more for business landlines.
- Most states use the 911 fees to fund the 911 service, but six states – Montana, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and West Virginia use some of their 911 fee to fund non-safety purposes or even just to go into the general funds of the state. In total $284 million was diverted from collected 911 fees.
- Thirty-five states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia have begun the process of upgrading to NG911.
- Sixteen states have deployed statewide Emergency Services IP Networks (ESInets) for exclusive use of public safety agencies.
- Thirty states, Guam, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands have not taken any steps for cybersecurity for 911 centers (PSAPs).
- There are 5,232 PSAPs in the country. These range from tiny centers in sheriff stations in rural counties to massive 911 centers in major metropolitan areas. For example, Washington DC has one PSAP while there are 586 in Texas.
- 1,381 PSAPs now had the ability to communicate with the public by text message. Another 1,103 PSAPs will be implementing that capability in 2018.
- There were over 39,000 operators employed to take 911 calls in 2017.
- Only 44 states reported 911 call volumes and in those states there were over 211 million calls to 911. Over 70% of calls now come from cellular phones.
I know it’s easy to hate regulation, but without it we wouldn’t have a 911 system that works so well. People in most of the country feel a lot safer knowing they can dial 911 and get help when needed.
Except when the system crashes as it did this week!
The FCC has launched a federal investigation into telecommunications company CenturyLink after a failure of the company’s systems in Louisiana led to 911 outages across the US on Thursday. Customers in several markets were left without Internet, and vital services like 911 were down temporarily, with local police departments urging residents to call their local numbers with emergencies. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has ordered the investigation, calling the outage “completely unacceptable, and its breadth and duration are particularly troubling (though he may need to wait until the government shutdown is ended before the investigation can begin in earnest).”
>The nationwide @CenturyLink > service outage >and the delay in restoring critical 911 capabilities is unacceptable. I >have spoken to CenturyLink to express my concerns and have directed the >@FCC ’s public safety >staff to launch an investigation. My statement below. #publicsafety >pic.twitter.com/HgQas1xtyB > >