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Archive for Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Wireless phones targeted for tax

Legislators likely to OK charge for 911 services

January 14, 2004

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After twice hanging up on proposals to charge wireless phone users fees for 911 service, the Kansas Legislature is likely to let a monthly fee go through this year, a member of the House Utilities Committee said Tuesday.

"I think this year we pass it," said Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence. "We've gotten close twice before. This year we pass it."

The fee would add from 50 cents to 75 cents to monthly bills of the users of wireless phones. The money would be used to enact E911 services across the state.

E911 is a service that allows emergency dispatchers to locate callers automatically, without the callers having to say a word. Such service already is available to callers using land-line phones, who already pay 75 cents a month to finance dispatch operations.

Wireless customers don't pay such fees, even though wireless calls account for nearly half of all calls pouring into dispatch centers. And with E911 service unavailable in all but a handful of communities statewide -- such technology would cost as much as $95,000 a year in Douglas County alone -- public safety issues are adding to questions of fairness in the minds of lawmakers.

"It's important for the wireless industry and the local communities to be able to physically locate people calling 911 on cell phones," Sloan said. "Two people have died in Kansas after calling 911 and there being no way to physically locate the callers."

Douglas County commissioners have backed efforts to establish a 911 fee for wireless phones, saying they need the money to bolster public safety.

Relying on existing fees to finance dispatch operations also doesn't make sense, they say, given that the number of land-line phones is dwindling as customers increasingly turn to wireless phones for their communications needs.

The utilities committee is reviewing four bills that would establish a fee on wireless phones. Sloan expects the committee to vote on the issue next week.

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