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A cell phone tax

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Oklahoma cell phone users might start paying a tax for enhanced 911 service. Voters would have to approve it first, but it might be the only way to get the service started.

News on 6 reporter Emory Bryan says almost everybody is using them - 60 percent of us have cell phones, but when we use them to call 911, they can't provide a critical bit of information - the location of the caller.

EMSA supervisor Bryon Schultz: "And sometimes people don't know where they are, especially if they're on the highway, it's hard to get the location." It's not that uncommon for people to call for an ambulance - when don't know or can't say where they are. The legislature is working on a practical solution - a tax on cell phone users to pay for enhanced 911 - the kind that relays the location of the caller. "The technology is there, we just need the funding to be there."

A cell phone tax could pay for the upgrades to 911. It's made it through the legislature but it's not a done deal and depends on voters. Each county would have to vote on the new tax. It would be a 50 cent per month tax on cellular customers and the money goes to the government's part of wireless 911 - not the cellular companies. They're still free to charge their own fees - and most already do.

The cell phone industry doesn't object to it - as long as the money goes where it's supposed to. Customers in other states have paid similar fees - only to have the money siphoned off for other government needs. EMSA wants enhanced 911 for cell phones - so they don't have to track down someone who can't afford to wait for help. EMSA supervisor Bryon Schultz: “we may have to send considerable resources to find someone, asking them to look for a piece of mail with their address; we've even had to tell someone to tell us when you hear the sirens.”

The cell phone tax bill is close to final approval in the state legislature - and again, it would have to go before voters. There are some loopholes in the legislation the industry has concerns about, but it does put a deadline of 2 years for government to get the equipment in place, otherwise the tax would expire.
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