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Politics & Government

As Technology Advances, 911 Centers Struggle to Keep Up

State lawmakers want Pennsylvanians to be able to contact 911 via Skype on their computers or Facetime on their smartphones, but they haven't figured out how to pay for it.

A hearing on Tuesday will bring county emergency responders into the mix as lawmakers discuss how to change the funding mechanisms for the statewide network of county-run 911 response centers.

Rep. Steve Barrar (R-Delaware) said the scheduled end of one revenue source for the centers is prompting the evaluation of the overall funding model.

"We need to look at the next generation of 911 and the next generation of technology and how to make sure that they are both compatible without us having to come back and rewrite this law every time there is a new type of technology," Barrar said.

The law putting the statewide 911 call center system in place has been updated several times, including for purposes of generating revenue in the form of surcharges.

Right now, the main revenue stream for the call centers is a one dollar surcharge on landline phones and cell phones. Barrar said many counties' centers have been adapting to new kinds of emergency calls, but at great expense.

"I do think eventually what you'll see is a tax on different means - anything that has the means of contacting 911, we'll eventually look at a dollar surcharge being added to it," Barrar said.