A telecom loophole that should be closed
March 30, 2011
By Paul Evans
If I didn't know better, I'd believe it was a poorly written plot for a straight-to-DVD movie. Sadly, it's all too real. House Bill 2075 -- a thoughtful, well-crafted bill seeking to remedy a loophole in how we pay for emergency services -- has been bottled up in the Legislature, potentially permanently, by the powerful telecommunications lobby. Under ordinary circumstances, this would represent merely a bad policy choice. But in the wake of recent earthquakes and tsunamis, it's far worse.
In my more than 22 years of public involvement at the local, state and regional level, I've rarely seen anything as blatantly self-serving as the drama playing out (or not) in the Oregon Legislature on HB2075. It's a simple, straightforward piece of legislation. Nearly a quarter of all telecommunications devices in use are not subject to the 9-1-1 service fees required of all other home and cellular phones to provide emergency 9-1-1 call service. HB2075 would provide a mechanism for all phones to be subject to the same tax, for the same reasons. The missing $8 million to $24 million (figures vary on the lost revenues) would make the difference between sustaining what we have or reducing 9-1-1 services that could delay emergency assistance and as a result deny critical care.
While "new" taxes -- revenue taken from something, for something -- are rightly scrutinized in this budget climate, HB2075 is not about imposing a new tax. It closes a loophole that should never have existed.
Technology has changed, and it was only the political power of the telecommunications lobby and relatively "good" economic times that prevented rational, system wide 9-1-1 fee assessment and implementation policies from being enacted.
Public safety responders, 9-1-1 emergency dispatchers and all of us directly paying for 9-1-1 services via mandatory fees on our home and cellular phones should be treated fairly. Oregonians across the spectrum generally believe that shared services should be paid for by everyone benefiting from those services. Evidently, this traditional view of shared responsibility is foundering on the shoals in Salem. Standing against the public good are four of the largest national telecommunications companies. They're content with the status quo: We pay; they don't -- even though they receive the same services.
Call your legislators; email your elected leadership. Tell them enough is enough: 9-1-1 calls are important and deserve to be funded by all who benefit from this life-saving service.
Paul L. Evans of Monmouth is former senior policy adviser on emergency management to former Gov. Ted Kulongoski.
Original Article: http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2011/03/a_telecom_loophole_that_should.html