Cell phone surcharges added this month

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Beginning today, phone bills in Alabama will show a new monthly charge of $1.60 starting Oct. 1 to support 911 emergency services statewide. That change means a decrease on landline bills but an increase on cell phone bills, County E-911 Director Kristi Stamnes said.

The new standardized statewide charge replaces a hodgepodge of monthly fees that ranged from 70 cents to more than $5, depending on the type of phone and its location.

Every Alabama phone customer – both business and residential – will now pay the same amount per phone to support 911 services, said Roger Wilson, chairman of the Alabama 911 Board.

The fee includes landline, cell and Internet-based phones that can access 911 services.

The Legislature passed a law last year to create the statewide 911 Board and set up a system to equalize 911 fees starting today.

“The intent of the legislation was to make the cost of 911 more fair and more stable,” said Sonny Brasfield, executive director of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama.

Previously, every 911 service had its own fee structure for landline phones.

State law set a uniform, statewide fee of 70 cents per month on cellphones to support 911 services. That revenue was divided among 911 services based on population.

With the standardization at $1.60, most people will end up paying less on their landline phone and everyone will pay more on their cellphones.

That $1.60 fee replaces the $2.54 monthly 911 fee on Covington County’s residential landline bills, the $3.05 business accounts and the 70-cent on each cellphone bill.

Brasfield said one reason for the legislation was financial problems faced by 911 systems in rural counties. They saw landline phone use declining, but they didn’t have cellphone fees to support their services.

Covington County signed a resolution at its September meeting for the new rate.

For years, Stamnes said that the bulk of 911 calls come from cell phones, while landline phones have been paying higher fees than cellphones.

She said the new fee is designed to generate the same amount statewide as the old fees. The new law allows the fee to be adjusted annually.

The 911 board will distribute the revenue, estimated to be $106 million annually, among the state’s 88 emergency phone services.