For many people who ventured out in their cars or trucks during Thursday's heavy snow, cellular phones represented a comforting lifeline. If they became stranded or their vehicles were incapacitated, the phones would be an important link to emergency help.
The severe weather that settled over the Lawrence area Thursday provided a fitting backdrop for action in the Kansas House that is likely to lead to an even greater degree of safety for cellular phone users.
The House passed and sent to the Senate a bill that would add a 50-cent monthly fee on wireless phones to fund upgrades of the state's 911 emergency phone systems. The estimated $7.8 million the fee will raise each year will allow statewide deployment of enhanced 911 service. The service will allow emergency dispatchers to trace the location of 911 calls from cellular phones, making it possible for help to reach the callers even if they are unable to give dispatchers their exact location. The service already is available for calls from land-based phone lines.
A monthly fee currently is added to land-based lines to fund E-911 services. Adding the fee to cellular lines is a reasonable way to raise money for a service that will directly benefit cellular phone users. A similar bill that calls for a 75-cent fee has been introduced in the Kansas Senate. Hopefully the bills will be easily reconciled and successfully forwarded to the governor for her signature.
Like the taxes we all pay for fire protection or ambulance service, we all hope we won't have reason to make use of the E-911 system, but it would be comforting to know it was there.