NBC I-Team: FCC follows up with new 911 questions, sends letter to Raimondo

The federal government pushed Rhode Island for answers about millions in diverted 911 fees with Commissioner Michael O’Rielly tweeting a letter he sent to Gov. Gina Raimondo. (WJAR)

The federal government pushed Rhode Island for answers about millions in diverted 911 fees on Tuesday, with Commissioner Michael O’Rielly tweeting a letter he sent to Gov. Gina Raimondo.

"I seek to understand the next steps that you plan to take to change the 9-1-1 fee diversion practices,” O’Rielly wrote.

O’Rielly visited Cranston in March for a meeting with first responders, citing his concerns about Rhode Island and six other states that continue to divert 911 fees to other purposes despite warnings from the FCC to stop the practice.

As NBC 10 has reported, Rhode Island took in about $17 million in 911 fees from landline and cell phone bills in 2017, but the budget for the state’s E-911 center was less than $6 million. The remaining money was sent to the state’s General Fund.

O’Rielly wrote that “…recent investigative reporting by Providence’s WJAR revealed serious problems facing this call center due to underfunding.”

The NBC 10 I-Team first reported a staffing shortage at E-911 in early 2018, when the call center was down by at least 10 employees.

Since NBC 10’s investigation began, Rhode Island State Police said they’ve hired five new telecommunicators who are now being trained and expected to be ready to for regular shifts within a month. State Police also said they will complete five more hires as soon as possible.

Now, the FCC wants to know how Rhode Island plans to tackle the fee diversion issue with specifics.

“…It is important to know whether any excess 9-1-1 fees that currently go to the State’s General Fund will be reduced to the appropriate level or reserved to modernize the state’s 9-1-1 system,” O’Rielly wrote.

The NBC 10 I-Team took those questions directly to Raimondo on Tuesday.

"So, that's a question for the General Assembly,” Raimondo said. “They're working on a fix for that. They should fix that.”

House Speaker Rep. Nicholas Mattiello, a Democrat who represents Cranston, told NBC 10 that 911 fee diversion will be addressed by the General Assembly before the session ends June 30. So far though, there have been no specific plans from the State House on what will happen to that excess money now being collected.

When asked about staff continuing to work overtime to cover the phones, Raimondo said OT is gradually being reduced as positions are filled.

“We had an issue in the beginning of the year, so we had to use more overtime,” she said. “But now we've filled the vacancies, and it's great."

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