Cost concerns around 911 upgrades

By Jeff Labine
The Chronicle-Journal
Published: Nov. 1, 2016

Improvements to 911 services have been rolling out and with more plans on the way, it could be municipal taxpayers who have to foot the bill.

The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission is looking to enhance the emergency service so that it can be more accessible for everyone as well as run more efficiently. One step that has already gone through is the ability to text 911, which was brought into the Thunder Bay area on Jan. 1, 2015. But the CRTC is looking to take more steps and has mandated telecommunications common carriers and wireless service provides to follow suit by upgrading for future enhancements, which may include using social media to contact emergency services.

While there’s no question about the benefits of improving 911 services, there are some concerns around who will cover the cost.

Westfort Coun. Joe Virdiramo said he doesn’t want that burden put on city taxpayers. He is urging that the city directly lobby the provincial government to enact legislation to bill telecommunication and wireless providers to offset the costs. This request was brought up at Monday night’s meeting.

“There is a way this could be funded,” he said. “We’re asking the CRTC and the government to allow the City of Thunder Bay and the Thunder Bay Police Service Board to allow us to put a fee on the wireless services and telecommunication services so we can collect the money to pay for the new generation of 911.”

Virdiramo pointed out that there are some parts of the country where municipalities collect a fee from the telecommunication and wireless companies but it isn’t a practice done in Ontario. He said they are simply asking the government to treat the city like they do in the rest of the country.

“It will cost us — I would say — thousands and thousands of dollars to provide this service,” he added. “We need staff and we need costly updates (and) it will be an extra charge and it will fall on residential taxpayers. So we want the government to be aware of it and petition (the) government to be allow a surcharge on telecommunication providers.”

The Thunder Bay Police Service has handled the city’s 911 service since 1996 as well as the surrounding area, which includes Fort William First Nation, Neebing, Shuniah and Oliver Paipoonge.

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