OHIO, PENNSYLVANIA Cell phone fees will pay for locator technology

One proposal would have Ohio cell phone users paying 65 cents a month for 911 service.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Cellular telephone users can expect a new monthly fee to pay for a new service that will ensure that they can be found in an emergency.
Ohio and Pennsylvania legislators are wrestling with how much the fee will be, while others are running tests to make sure the technology works.
The new technology, called wireless 911, would allow 911 centers to pinpoint within 50 yards a call made from a cell phone, even if the caller hangs up or doesn't know where he is.
The question is how to pay for it.
Software and other equipment needs to be installed to connect the emergency networks, cellular networks and global positioning satellites. These satellites would help provide locations of calls on dispatchers' screens.
Maggi McGee, Mahoning County 911 director, is part of a committee that is pushing for a state law in Ohio that would require each cell phone user to pay 65 cents a month to cover these costs.
The bill has passed the House but has been rejected in the Senate. McGee said she is hoping the Senate will approve the bill next year.
The issues: Some of the opponents are concerned about privacy infringements because of the 911 centers' ability to track cell phones, she said. Backers counter that argument by saying that 911 centers operate under privacy provisions that would keep all information under their control, to be used only for emergency purposes.
Even if the funding issue is settled, McGee doesn't think the technology will be ready to be installed next year.
Jim Thompson, Mercer County public safety director, said he plans to go slowly with the new technology to make sure money is being spent on something that works. He said he expects to start working with this technology in about a year, but it will be some time before it is fully operational.
Pennsylvania also is struggling over funding, he said. Public safety officials are backing a proposal that would implement the same fee that wired phone users pay for 911 service, he said.
This fee ranges from 75 cents to $1.50 a month, depending on county size, with Mercer residents paying $1.25 a month. Based on the current formula, charges for wired phone lines could go down if cellular callers are added to the 911 system, Thompson said.
Important feature: McGee said being able to locate cell phone users is important because tragedies have happened in other areas when injured people have placed 911 calls from cell phones but could not be located.
A person could drive off the road in an unfamiliar area, or a person could be hurt so badly that he couldn't talk but could dial 911, she said. The new technology also would be helpful in a domestic violence situation in which a person has time only to dial 911, she said.
Pinpointing technology, called enhanced 911, already is available for wire-based phone service in all area counties, except Columbiana County. With enhanced 911, the location of the call is given to dispatchers whenever 911 is dialed from a wired phone line.
McGee said 911 users should have the same security because many people have canceled their regular local phone service and are relying solely on cellular.
FCC deadlines: The Federal Communications Commission has set certain deadlines to be met for implementation of wireless 911, but they continued to be pushed back, McGee said.
Susan Kristof, a Sprint spokeswoman, said it will be at least a year before the cellular companies, local phone companies and 911 centers decide on how they will implement the technology.
Sprint said it was the only cellular company to meet an FCC deadline of offering a phone that is able to communicate with the GPS satellites.
Kristof said these phones will be used in a test of the service in Rhode Island next month.
The GPS technologies will allow other services to be brought to cell phones, such as driving directions, traffic services and locations of restaurants or entertainment.