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E911 cell phone surcharge goes up July 1

(Radio Iowa News) – Cell phone owners will pay more to support the networks that handle emergency 911 calls as a result of legislation Governor Terry Branstad has signed into law.

Iowans who have a land line already pay $1 a month for 911 service, while people with a cell phone pay just 65 cents a month.

The legislature voted to raise the monthly cell phone fee for 911 service to $1 a month. Senator Janet Petersen, a Democrat from Des Moines, said “everyone cares” about ensuring emergency communications systems are working properly.

“As Americans, and even as Iowans, we may disagree on many things, but when it comes to helping each another in times of tragedy, we know how to pull together,” Petersen said during senate debate. “…While none of us ever want to be in a situation that warrants a call to 911, I suspect most of us in this room have faced a time when we’ve had to make that call.”

Representative Guy Vander Linden, a Republican from Oskaloosa, said during House debate that the bill establishes a “consistent” charge for 911 service.

“The bill would ensure the best possible emergency response service,” Vander Linden said, “address the current disparity in E911 surcharges for wireless and land-line customers.”

A task force assembled last year recommended cell phone users pay the same  911 surcharge paid by Iowans who have a land-line. Representative Bob Kressig, a Democrat from Cedar Falls, said the extra $6.4 million raised every year by boosting the 911 surcharge on cell phones will pay for necessary upgrades to emergency systems.

“Next generation 911 is going to allow for texting, photos and possibly even video,” Kressig said during House debate.

The bill passed the House on a 99-0 vote on May 7. It passed the Senate a day later on a 39-11 vote. Senator Mark Chelgren, a Republican from Ottumwa, was one of those no votes and the only legislator to speak against the bill.“There’s about a 54 percent increase for those of us who have wireless phones,” Chelgren said. “…My family has four cell phones and the landline, so effectively I’m going to go from having $1 for my home line, 65-cents for the other lines and now all those are going to come up, so I’m effectively going to be paying $5.”

Chelgren is currently paying $3.60 a month for emergency communications on all five of his family’s lines. Senator Steve Sodders, a Democrat from State Center, said the fee hike seemed “fair” to him.

“Senator Chelgren, I’ve got two kids and a wife and we have four cell phones and a total of 35 cents more for each one of those — I think I can afford it,” Sodders said.

Senator Herman Quirmbach, a Democrat from Ames, said it makes sense to impose the same 911 surcharge on a cell phone as on a land line.

“If it costs me an extra 35 cents a month to be able to summon help if I slip off into a ditch in a blizzard, boy that is well worth it to me,” Quirmbach says, “and I think it’s well worth it to everybody else.”

In 1996 Federal officials declared that wireless phones should connect into 911 systems and Iowa lawmakers initially set a 50-cent per month 911 surcharge on cell phones used by Iowa residents. It was raised to 65 cents in 2004.