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Cell Phone Tax Assessments for E911 Vary - Is This Fair?


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January 18, 2012

Cell Phone Tax Assessments for E911 Vary - Is This Fair?

By Susan J. Campbell, TMCnet Contributing Editor

The proliferation of mobile devices and the growing reliance on location technology has changed the face of 911 services in the U.S. Like other community services, 911 requires funding and the money must be assessed somewhere. For years, landlines were charged with a 911 fee. With the emergence of postpaid cell phones, an e911 (News - Alert) fee was assessed. 

The only ones escaping the charge were prepaid wireless users – until recently. According to this Prepaid Reviews blog, state legislators were able to implement assessments on prepaid customers, charging the fee at the point of sale (POS). For some, this assessment is viewed as unfair. There is no argument that a tax for 911 and e911 services should be in place. After all, those taxed for the service are the same individuals who will benefit from its availability in the event of an emergency. The challenge to the e911 charge for prepaid wireless users stems from the way in which fees are assessed. 

The Prepaid Reviews writer suggests that the logistics alone in this scenario are tricky. Are users really being charged through the best method when fees are assessed at the POS? If the same charge applies to a $50 unlimited plan and a $10 top-up, are the fees fairly assessed per customer?

It was suggested by this blog writer that the tax is actually a regressive tax as someone purchasing the unlimited $50 plan is likely to be better off than the individual simply adding $10 to the card every week. The one adding to the card may be in a position where the $10 a week is the only thing he or she can afford. At the end of the month, the $50 user paid just $.50 in e911 fees, while the $10 top-up customer paid a full $2.00.

Those seeking to avoid the e911 tax can make their purchases online, yet the demographic doesn’t tend to match those purchasing the $10 option. Individuals with the means to purchase the $50 card are more likely to make a purchase online as they are more likely to have Internet access at home. Such evaluations then beg the question if the better-off user is less likely to need 911 services and if so, is this assessment a fair approach to collecting the fee?

When examining the system from the broader perspective, no one is really getting a fair shake. All citizens deserve access to 911 services, yet not all citizens are helping to foot the bill. This is not to suggest that one’s cell phone purchase is dependent upon the assessment of this fee, but the reality is that some are paying more than others. There is a significant need for e911 and it costs money. The system has to be supported by the consumer. Is there a better way? Suggestions to your legislators may be a good idea.

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Susan J. Campbell is a contributing editor for TMCnet and has also written for To read more of Susan’s articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Juliana Kenny

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