Most States Used 911 Funds for Intended Purposes, but FCC Could Improve Its Reporting on States’ Use of Funds

Source: U.S. Government Accountability Office, GAO-13-376, April 2013

From the summary:
Although states faced challenges and delays in the past, states have made significant progress implementing wireless Enhanced 911 (E911) since 2003. Wireless E911 deployment usually proceeds through two phases: Phase I provides general caller location information by identifying the cell tower or cell site that is receiving the wireless call; Phase II provides more precise caller-location information, usually within 50 to 300 meters. Currently, according to the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), nearly 98 percent of 911 call centers, known as Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs), are capable of receiving Phase I location information, and 97 percent have implemented Phase II for at least one wireless carrier. This represents a significant improvement since 2003 when implementation of Phase I was 65 percent and Phase II was 18 percent. According to NENA’s current data, 142 U.S. counties (representing roughly 3 percent of the U.S. population) do not have some level of wireless E911 service. The areas that lack wireless E911 are primarily rural and tribal areas that face special implementation challenges, according to federal and association officials.

According to data collected by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), all 50 states and the District of Columbia reported collecting–or authorizing local entities to collect–funds for wireless E911 implementation, and most states reported using these funds for their intended purpose. Six states–Arizona, Georgia, Illinois, Maine, New York, and Rhode Island–reported using a total of almost $77 million of funds collected for 911 implementation for other purposes (e.g., transferring 911 funds to the general fund) in 2011. Using funds in this way is permissible by state law in these states, but it creates the risk of undermining the credibility of 911 fees in those states. The manner in which FCC collects and reports information on state 911 funds limits the usefulness of its annual report. In particular, contrary to best practices for collecting and analyzing data, FCC uses only open-ended questions to solicit information from states, lacks written guidelines for interpreting states’ responses and ensuring that results can be reproduced, and does not describe the methodology used to analyze the data it collects. As a result, FCC is missing an opportunity to analyze trends and to provide more detailed aggregated information that would be useful to decision makers.
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