Fee to come with 911 service
Board will be established to manage provincewide expansion
The provincial government offered some specifics April 16 on how it plans to finance and manage a provincewide 911 system.
Meeting with reporters at the Confederation Building, Municipal Affairs Minister Kevin O’Brien said a levy fee will be applied to all landline and wireless subscriptions in the province on a monthly basis. He said this model for financing would be “the most efficient and effective” one, noting it is in use throughout North America.
“All costs associated with the operation and the periodic upgrades to the 911 system will be financed by this month user levy, but (the levy) will not be in effect until the system is operational,” said O’Brien, who is also the minister responsible for Fire and Emergency ServicesNewfoundland and Labrador (FES-NL).
The province also plans to establish an arm’s-length, not-for-profit entity with its own board of directors to oversee operations of the system. Fees collected by telecommunications companies operating in the province will be remitted to that yet-to-be-established group.
While no decision has been made on the exact cost of the monthly fee, O’Brien made reference to the feasibility study’s indication that it would be less than $1.
“There’s various amounts and various juris- dictions across Canada and the United States that’s being used depending on the cost to implement the system and run the system,” he said.
He said a cost to operate a basic 911 system has not been determined, though when the undertaking was announced last June, an annual cost of $2.3 million was mentioned, including $500,000 for annual upgrades.
Last June, the government said there were approximately 609,000 phone subscriptions provincewide. To raise $2.3 million annually, a charge of $0.32 would need to be applied to each monthly bill.
Asked to respond to the argument that people are already paying taxes to government that could fund a provincewide system, O’Brien said personal income tax in the province only accounts for approximately 17 per cent of government’s revenue stream.
He noted the Multi-Materials Stewardship Board was set up in a similar fashion by the province, with fees related to the sale of recyclable goods used to fund its operations.
The decision to implement basic 911 service was informed by a feasibility study prepared for government. Presently, 40 per cent of the province’s population has 911 service, covering the St. John’s metro area, Corner Brook and western Labrador.
Cellphone users can access 911 from any- where in the province, so long as they have reception. Asked about managing the service in parts of the province in dead zones, O’Brien said the province continues to lobby private companies to install more cell towers.
“We continue to lobby those private entities to place towers in certain positions ... but there has to be a good business case, because they cost a fair dollar to put up,” he said.
Any surplus funds generated through the levy will go towards periodic updates to the system, such as hardware replacement, modernization efforts, and related training, according to the minister.
O’Brien said talks have already commenced to begin the process of drafting legislation to establish and operate a basic 911 system.
The minister said no determination has been made on whether the service will require additional call centres. There are currently four in the province.
Civic addresses needed in future
O’Brien said civic addresses are not required under basic 911, but they will be necessary for next generation 911 service, which the province hopes to eventually have in place. That service offers the ability to display caller names and billing address information when a 911 call is received, and it can also use text messages and the digital transfer of photos.
Eddie Joyce, Liberal municipal affairs critic, said last week’s announcement was an attempt by government “to make news out of nothing,” adding it was an effort to deflect attention from what he believes was a bad provincial budget.
“There’s no guarantee of the fee,” said Joyce, MHA for Bay of Islands. “There’s no commitment of how many call centres are going to be set up.
“Once again, we have a minister saying they’re going to set up a board when the minister of education is scrapping all the boards across the province, and you can see that today’s announcement is nothing but trying to put out good news when there’s actually no news whatsoever in this announcement.”
NDP municipal affairs critic George Murphy questioned the need for a board of directors to oversee the service and said he would be interested in hearing more about its role in the process of establishing 911 service provincewide.
“I think we already have regional police services, for example, that would be looking after this,” said the St. John’s East MHA, who added government must put more pressure on companies to expand cellphone coverage if 911 service is to truly be considered provincewide. firstname.lastname@example.org