Cell phone bills may increase to fund 911 call centers

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OKLAHOMA CITY - Cell phone users may soon pay higher fees to pay for 911 service.

A state senate subcommittee met Thursday to take a look at 911 efficiency.

Fewer people are using landlines, so money collected from 911 fees are on the decline, and call centers are underfunded.

Lawmakers met with wireless industry representatives at the capitol to try to come up with a solution.

Underfunding is especially a problem in less populated areas.

Latimer County Commissioner Roy Alford voiced his concerns Thursday at the state capitol where a senate subcommittee listened to funding options.

"We don't have the adequate funds on the cell phone fees to continue this," Alford said.

One possibility for funding is increasing cell phone 911 fees by a flat rate across the state.

Right now, wireless customers pay a 50 cent 911 charge in most Oklahoma counties.

Lawmakers haven't said how much the potential fee increase might be.

Cell phone users have mixed opinions about it.

"I just wouldn't want to have to pay more than I already pay," Christopher Contreras said.

"It's a vital service that's provided to people. 911 is the number that you call when you're at your lowest moment when you need the most help," Calvin Walton said.

State Senator Mike Schulz called for the 911 interim study. He says he's in favor of a higher statewide fee but says they'll have to look at the need of funding county by county.

"The base line equipment to operate a center, everybody has to have a certain level of equipment, and that doesn't matter if you're trying to service 1,000 people, 10,000 people, 50,000 people. You have to pay for the cost of that equipment, and it's a fixed base cost regardless of how many people you're trying to serve," Schulz said.

Schulz expects a bill to be introduced when the legislative session begins in February.

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