New Alabama 911 funding model changes rates on phone bills - WRBL

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New Alabama 911 funding model changes rates on phone bills

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OPELIKA, Ala. -

This month Alabamians will start seeing a change in their phone bills. It's because 9-1-1 call centers across the state are being funded under a new model.

911 dispatchers are readily available to answer the phone and send help when you need it most. But it costs money to run the operations. For years tax-payers have been paying different monthly 911 charges on their phone bills, funding the equipment and software used in dispatch centers.

Lee County 911 Coordinator Bill Meadows said Alabama is introducing a new, fair way to keep the lines open. "Every device, whether it's wired or wireless will pay a flat rate of $1.60 statewide."

The change went into effect Oct.1 meaning people will see it on their upcoming bill. Cell phone users used to pay 70 cents and will now see that price more than double. Businesses will notice a $1.45 decrease a month and residential phone customers will pay one cent less.

Since the emergence of cell phones more people have been using them to dial 911. Wired phones are being used less. In Lee County 911 dispatchers receive an average of 65-70 percent of their emergency calls from wireless devices. But the law only allowed a 70 cent monthly fee for them.

"Wired was basically paying for wireless," Meadows said. Some Alabama counties were charging the maximum $5 residential rate in order to make ends meet.

The new funding model has also altered the way dispatch centers receive their funds. Usually, checks are sent directly to the local 911 district. Now the revenues will be sent to the statewide 911 board and then be dispersed locally. 911 districts are set to get their funds in December, but there could a lag time since the system is new.

"We probably have enough money to make it. I can't promise that," Meadows said. Each 911 district is guaranteed at least the same amount of money they've been getting in the past. For Lee County that means around $900,000 annually. Russell County will receive around $750,000.

Local 911 districts will also be able to apply for grants to get their December money early if they need it.

The Alabama 911 board is cautioning districts that their monthly funding maybe unpredictable at first, but they will monitor it and make adjustments as warranted.

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Sydney Cameron

Sydney joined the WRBL news team in December 2011 after working as a freelance reporter in Washington, D.C. More>>

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