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Cell Phone 911 Fee Increase Passes Over Governor's Objections As Part of AT&T Deal

The Illinois General Assembly voted to increase a fee on cell phone bills in order to fund 911 services.  

Negotiators involved with the legislation say Gov. Bruce Rauner tried to pull Republican support because he didn't want to give Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel a victory. But GOP lawmakers voted in favor of the measure, which includes a fee increase in Chicago.

Rep. Chad Hays, R-Caitlin, said that, without the fee increase, 911 services would be on life support.


“And I suggested that I was not going to go home and tell the people in my community that when they dial 911, on the other end of the line it says, ‘Sorry this line has been disconnected,’ because the governor and the mayor of Chicago are in a wrestling match about something peripheral,” Hays said.


Operators of the telephone-based emergency services system say the current cell phone fees were not generating enough money.


The legislation won broad bipartisan support, along with a provision that would allow AT&T to abandon the state's copper land lines. The company once had a monopoly across the country but now faces competition from cell phone and cable companies.


Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, said AT&T should invest in new technology.


“We want them to use that money," he said. "Instead of using it on the old network, let’s use it on the network. And some of the parts on the old copper network, they have to get them from Ebay.”


Only about 10% of AT&T customers are connected to the old network. The company claims most homes with land lines use fiber-optic cables.


Tom reports on statehouse issues for NPR Illinois. He's currently a Public Affairs Reporting graduate program student at the University of Illinois Springfield. He graduated from Macalester College. Tom is from New York City where he also did stand-up and improv and wrote for the Awl and WNYC public radio.
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