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911 fee becomes issue for Tracfone in Tennessee

About a month ago, we found out that Tennessee residents under a certain income threshold would be eligible for a free phone from Tracfone. These would go out to 812,000 residents in an effort to better connect them. A recent study shows that cell phone ownership can increase a person’s earning potential. Anyway, according to the Chattanooga Choo Choo Times Free Press, there’s a little debate going on in the state legislature over how, if at all, a 911 fee will be assessed to these users.

“They have the potential to tie up our 911 lines,” said John Stuermer, executive director for the Hamilton County Emergency Communications District, who raised the issue during a 911 board meeting last week.

It sounds like Steurmer either misspoke or was quoted incompletely. The idea is that they use the 911 service, since, you know, it’s for emergencies. The issue, of course, is of who foots the bill. What I think Steurmer meant was that they’ll be using the service for free, while other callers will have paid some sort of a 911 fee. His later quote — “That’s a concern because we’ll need that additional revenue to handle these increasing call volumes.” — kind of clears that up.

Officials also cited potential abuse as a concern. Since prepaid phones are anonymous, officials wouldn’t be able to track callers who overuse the service when there is no emergency. This, I think, is grasping at straws. The main concern, really, is money to fund the 911 call centers.

In Texas, state legislators are debating the merits of nixing the 911 tax for prepaid users. A 50 cents per month tax has been assessed to prepaid users, though some legislators argue that thee fee should be lifted, since prepaid users are typically the least able to pay it. This seems to go right along with the Tennessee case.