Report: Major Wireless Carrier Has Been Overcharging Marylanders for 9-1-1 Fees

At a recent meeting of the Commission to Advance Next Generation 9-1-1 Across Maryland, Senator Cheryl Kagan, who chairs the Commission, testified that T-Mobile – a telecommunications company which operates the third-largest wireless network in the United States – has been systematically overcharging Maryland customers for 9-1-1 fees.

“The carrier T-Mobile for years has been overcharging its customers on our 911 fees,” Kagan said. ” For eighteen-and-a-half years, T-Mobile has been inaccurately overcharging its customers.”

For nearly two decades, Maryland’s 9-1-1 surcharge was levied on each telephone bill. This antiquated system, unlike any other state in the nation, was created before the widespread shift to cell phone technology, which brought with it the adoption of family plans and the ability for several phone lines to be combined into one bill.

But according to Senator Kagan, T-Mobile instead billed customers on a per-line basis, meaning the company overcharged Maryland families and businesses with multiple lines on the same bill.

According to The Baltimore Sun:

A spokeswoman for T-Mobile said the law concerning 911 fees was ambiguous and the company supported recent legislation to clarify it. In fact, state law changed July 1 to increase the fee and to have it apply to each line in a plan.

It’s not clear how much Maryland customers may have overpaid for the 911 service, and T-Mobile said all 911 fees it has collected over the years were paid to the state of Maryland.

Kagan estimated the excess fees runs well into the thousands, if not millions, of dollars.

Maryland’s 9-1-1 fee structure was grossly insufficient to support the current 9-1-1 system, let alone the deployment of Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG911) – which will improve wireless caller location, accommodate new data-rich communications, and better manage crisis-driven call overflows. In fact, local 9-1-1 fees cover just 37% of statewide operational costs, with counties relying increasingly on general revenues to supplement 9-1-1 funding.

Earlier this year, as a result of the Commission’s recommendations, the Maryland General Assembly passed  SB 339/HB 397, Public Safety – 9-1-1 Emergency Telephone System (Carl Henn’s Law), a 2019 MACo Legislative Initiative to update state laws and the 9-1-1 financing system to provide the flexibility and resources needed for the deployment of a statewide Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG911) system. The bill, which became law on July 1, conforms Maryland’s fee structure to that of every other state and will provide an additional revenue source to offset 9-1-1 operational costs for the transition to NG911.

Senator Kagan referred the matter to state auditors for investigation.

Stay tuned to Conduit Street for more information.

Useful Links

The Baltimore Sun: T-Mobile has been overcharging Maryland customers for 911 fees, state senator says

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Governor Signs MACo’s NG911 Initiative

Commission to Advance Next Generation 9-1-1 Across Maryland Final Report (November 2018)

MACo Next Generation 9-1-1 White Paper