Shedding light on phone charges

For those who think newspapers don’t make a difference, two recent votes by the state’s Commercial Mobile Radio Service (CMRS) board prove otherwise.

For years, the board had refused to report or make public revenues collected from pre-paid cell phones.

The collections are in the form of an E-911 surcharge, usually a dollar, which is included on customers’ monthly cell phone bills.

For pre-paid cell phones, that fee is included in the price individuals pay for renewing their minutes each month.

County officials have been trying to find out how much the board collects in pre-paid surcharges for years.

Supervisors argue they needed the data to see if they are getting their fair share of the funds. The number of cell phones in the state has grown exponentially over the last decade, but diversions to the counties have remained flat.

The board has historically refused to provide the information, and in some cases, even refused to talk to supervisors who had questions.

In June, though, CMRS did an about face, and voted to create records breaking down collection data for pre-paid and post-paid cell phones. Then, in August, the board voted to begin making that data available on its website.

The Sun played a major part in CMRS agreeing to shed light on this data. Earlier this year, we reported on the board’s secrecy, including efforts to keep our reporters out of a CMRS work session.

In July, after weeks of being unable to find out how much CMRS brought in from pre-paid cell phones, we again reported on the agency’s secrecy.

We filed an open record request seeking the pre-paid data in late April or early May. At the time, CMRS officials used every excuse in the book to keep us from obtaining the information, from charging inflated prices to produce the data, to not understanding our request.

Clearly, our inquiries and our reporting forced CMRS’ hand, and we’re pleased that light will soon be shed on this most important information.

We’ve begun posting the collection data to our website. Now, we’re awaiting the CMRS board to do the same. Pre-paid reports had not been posted at press time. Let’s hope that they’ll begin posting that information when the agency’s June financial report is released.

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