Fee to come with 911 ser­vice

Board will be es­tab­lished to man­age provincewide ex­pan­sion

The Compass - - THE COMPASS - AN­DREW ROBIN­SON TC ME­DIA

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.

Fea­si­bil­ity study

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. arobin­son@thetele­gram.com

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