Cell phones might face 911 fee boost Company officials say users already pay on home bills

$6 a year proposed

Emergency service needs more money, county says

September 19, 1995|By Dan Morse | Dan Morse,SUN STAFF

Howard County cellular phone users would pay an additional $6 a year to help fund the county's 911 emergency service under a measure that was discussed at a County Council hearing last night.

But the 50-cent-a-month charge is not fair because cellular phone users already pay the 50 cents on their monthly home telephone bills, a spokeswoman for a cellular telephone company said.

"It would almost be like they are paying twice," Julie Rosenthal, a spokeswoman for Cellular One, told the council.

The county says it needs more money to operate its 911 system because costs increase each year, and in recent years people using cellular phones to call 911 place extra demands on 911 operators.

Under a new state law, local governments can tax cellular phone users up to 50 cents a month for 911 service. Thus far, Baltimore City is the only jurisdiction in the state to impose the tax, Ms. Rosenthal said.

Nationwide, "It has happened in other jurisdictions, but not that often," said Mike Houghton, a spokesman for the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association in Washington.

He is concerned that a series of such fees could amount to substantially higher cellular telephone bills.

But he said his group is not overly concerned about this 50 cents a month charge.

Steve Fleischer, a spokesman for Bell Atlantic NYNEX Mobile, said he was not aware of any 911 fees charged to cellular telephone users in the 18 states his company serves along the East Coast.

Ms. Rosenthal said 911 users already enhance 911 service because they are constantly using the system to call for help for other people.

But that costs more money, said Rufus F. Clanzy, director of the county's Department of Public Services, which supports the fee.

If there is an accident on a busy road during rush hour, as many as 10 passing motorists will call 911, he said.

"They're being good citizens so we don't complain about it," Mr. Clanzy said. "But we're going to have to pay for it."

Asked about the concern that cellular telephone callers will have to pay 50 cents twice, Mr. Clanzy said, "I'm one of the people who falls into that category."

He said that most cellular phone owners will realize the money is worth it.

Exact totals of cellular telephone customers in Howard County were not available because the private companies do not release that information.

Mr. Clanzy said the county did not know how many cellular telephone users there were in Howard County.

Nationwide, there are nearly 30 million cellular phone users, Mr. Houghton said.

The county now spends almost $2 million a year operating its 911 system, Mr. Clanzy said. Of that, about $1.5 million comes from a County Council appropriation and about $500,000 comes from the existing 50-cent fee.

Mr. Clanzy said the new charge, if approved by the council, will start Jan. 1.

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