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States moving to charge 911 fees for prepaid users

At the start of this year, Louisiana began imposing a new tax on prepaid card purchases to cover 911 fees. This has been a topic of debate among state legislatures for the past few years. As the number of prepaid cell phone users grows, they more concerned they are with collecting proper 911 fees. Louisiana’s implementation has its flaws — for one, it doesn’t cover online purchases. These logistical issues aren’t stopping lawmakers in other states from trying to impose them as well. Recently, we heard of two more states, one of which ruled on the issue late last week.

The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that Tracfone just collect 911 fees from their users, according to the AP. Apparently Nebraska allows for three methods of collection, though the article does not state them specifically. It doesn’t sound like it will be along the same lines as Louisiana, though. The language of the article suggests that Tracfone itself will have to collect the fees, while in Louisiana retailers bear the burden.

In Virginia, lawmakers are currently debating how to implement 911 fee collection. The carriers themselves are currently responsible, but because most prepaid phone transactions take place outside a corporate cell phone store — usually a convenience store or big box retailer — the carriers feel that they should not be the ones collecting. As in Louisiana, they want the burden to be on the retailers. The Virginia Retail Merchants Association, of course, opposes this shift in responsibility.

Again, all of these implementations ignore online purchases, which are currently 911-fee-free. It is the trickiest, of course, because websites would then have to charge different fees for different states. And then there’s the whole issue of enforcing the fee from third-party online retailers. This is no easy issue, but there seems to be some momentum behind the cause.