Declining Land Line Use Threatens E911 Funding

Sep 10, 2013

Lexington leaders like their colleagues in governments across the state, searching for a way to cope with the decline of hard-wired telephones.  Those phones were the basis of 911 systems that summoned police and firefighters.

Credit Allan Gyorke / Flickr, Creative Commons

The hard-wired telephone has always been essential to the financial support of E-911 systems.  A local tax on telephones helped cities and counties establish and expand such system.  But, with more people switching exclusively to cell phones, revenues are down. Cities still get something from a state tax on cell phones, but former director of E-911 services in Lexington David Lucas says it’s not enough.

‘It’s been the same figure since 1998, 70 cents hasn’t changed, obviously our expenses have gone up.  But, the use of cell phones has gone up.  You know back when we passed the legislation, I bet only ten percent of my calls came from wireless callers, now it’s 80 percent,” said Lucas.

And, while income has declined, Lucas says costs have increased. Lucas says tracking cell phones so they reveal a caller’s location requires expensive equipment.   Clay Mason, who’s the Public Safety Commissioner in Lexington, thinks the state should provide a solution.

“I think that we have the time to work on a statewide plan.  I think there’s time to develop that and look at funding sources beyond just land lines,” said Mason.

Meanwhile, some counties are already looking at alternative funding methods for E-911 services. They include billing individual homes through water meters or addresses.