Legislature protects vital 9-1-1 services - | WBTV Charlotte

Legislature protects vital 9-1-1 services

In response to growing technological changes and the dwindling use of traditional landline phone service, the Alabama legislature today took steps to ensure the continued viability of the 9-1-1 emergency calling service born more than 40 years ago in Haleyville.

 Early during today's session, the Alabama House gave final approval to a bill reforming the financial future of 9-1-1 programs by establishing a statewide, level fee on all devices capable of reaching the emergency call centers. Today Alabama's 88 local districts each set their own rates, with many rural programs facing serious funding challenges because of declining population, growing costs and expansion of technology.

 "This legislation is the product of more than 18 months of work by professionals from every segment of the 9-1-1 community," said Sonny Brasfield, executive director of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama. "It is only fitting that the state where the 9-1-1 system was born would adopt such a comprehensive overhaul of this essential service."

 "The bill's sponsors, Rep. Mike Millican and Sen. Del Marsh, did a remarkable job of bringing together diverse groups, leading the state toward improved efficiency and never losing sight of the main goal -- keeping our 9-1-1 service as a national leader."

 The first 9-1-1 call in the United States was made in Haleyville in 1968. Today, Alabama's 9-1-1 programs are supervised by local boards that employ professional responders to take calls and dispatch emergency personnel. Currently, programs are funded by a statewide fee on post-paid wireless and local fees on traditional landline phone service.

 "It was important to me personally to ensure that the 9-1-1 service we've all come to depend on would be there both at home and wherever we might travel across this state, and I think we've achieved that," said Millican.

 "Our 9-1-1 system is too critical to let it be threatened by technological changes," said Marsh. "This forward-thinking legislation will secure the future of emergency communications in Alabama for years to come."

 The bill sets in motion a 15-month process that will conclude with the establishment of a flat rate that will apply to traditional landline phones, wireless phones, pre-paid wireless service, voice-over-internet service and any other technology that can access the network. A statewide panel will collect data on the 9-1-1 revenue collected by each district, establish the rate on Oct. 1, 2013, and distribute the resulting revenue to ensure all districts maintain their current level of funding.

 "By broadening the base to include all services, residential and business customers in many jurisdictions will see decreased fees," Brasfield explained.

 Another review panel established by the bill will take a comprehensive look at the operation of 9-1-1 systems in Alabama -- including a review by the Department of Examiners of Public Accounts -- to determine if the 9-1-1 services can be delivered in a more efficient manner. The report will be submitted to the Legislature at the start of the 2014 regular session.

 The bill now goes to Gov. Robert Bentley. 

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