911 & City-utility surcharge on a data-only EVDO card?

  • May 28th, 2007

Sprint EVDO wireless bill screenshotFor the past 5 months, I have spent a significant amount of time online thanks to the Sprint Novatel U720 USB modem. The modem – which operates seamlessly on both Windows & Apple hardware – is the perfect companion for anyone looking for true mobile broadband. Due to the fact that Sprint’s EVDO network operated flawlessly [providing amazing connectivity speeds], I had never made it a point to nit-pick each line of the monthly bill. Curiosity got the best of me once I could no longer justify a $2-5 fluctuation (difference) at the end of each billing cycle. Lo and behold, what I noticed was enough to make me scratch my head in bewilderment…

The Sprint Novatel U720 USB modem is assigned a standard phone number. However, the phone number is not a true phone number in that calls can be made / received or messages sent / received. The number is more of a convenience for Sprint / Nextel – simplifying network-wide account management. Anyone who dials the assigned phone number will be prompted to leave a voicemail. Tomfoolery! My EVDO modem has no keypad, screen, or way to alert me of missing calls or messages! Yet, monthly bills include taxes and surcharges which would should only be associated with actual cellphones. Right? Four charges immediately jump out:

Additional Sprint Charges:

  1. Federal-Fed. 911 Fee ($0.40)
  2. Seattle City-Utility Users Surcharge ($3.82)

Government Fees & Taxes:

  1. Washington State-911 Taxes ($0.20)
  2. King County-911 Taxes ($0.50)

The “Seattle City-Utility Users Surcharge” requires a little more research, but the 911 fees are questionable. Again, the Novatel U720 USB modem is not a phone, nor does dialing 9-1-1 on the make-believe keypad before placing it against my head improve my chances of being rescued in an emergency situation. I rang Sprint customer service in search of an explanation.

Looking for answers, on hold with Sprint CSR’s

Sunday morning I phoned Sprint customer service looking for an explanation as to why a data-only wireless modem account would be pinned with 911 fees & taxes. The general answer from the first tier of service reps was "I don’t know…". Standard customer service reps are unable to explain Additional Sprint Charges or Government Fees & Taxes. Apparently, it is standard for any Sprint account "handsets" to have 911 taxes & fees. A soft-spoken representative named Margaret recommended that I call Corp. Security at 1-800-877-7330. Unfortunately, Corp. Security dealt with fraudulent charges, personal security, and general "report a stalker" scenarios. A second representative by the name of Bernie recommended that I call the 1-866-770-6690 which handles Surcharges & Fees.

The number which dealt with Surcharges & Fees (1-866-770-6690) was of little help considering the entire process is automated with ZERO options to speak with a service professional. The automated system walks callers through three different informational recordings dealing with the 1) Federal wireless local number pooling and portability surcharge, 2) Federal E911 surcharge, and 3) Federal Universal Service Fund Surcharge. Sprint has some background on mandated charges here but provides little support for speaking to someone face-to-face concerning the charges.

Thinking "3rd time’s a charm", I phoned Sprint a third time and spoke with Franklin. Franklin informed me that the 911 fees and Federal / State taxes are a requirement and that there is nothing that can be done. However, he did mention that I am being charged 911 taxes too many times. I guess I’ll get a few cents reimbursed for the current and previous billing cycles. Unfortunately, little information was provided concerning the "Seattle City-Utility Users Surcharge".

Understanding 911 fees & taxes requirements

Taken from Support – Taxes, fees, and other charges, Enhanced 911 is:

[…] a technology that will help emergency response agencies determine the location of anyone who dials 911 from his or her enhanced wireless phone. Sprint is upgrading its network and handsets in order to meet federal requirements and ensure that the most advanced 911 technology is available to customers.

I am aware of the fact that Sprint is required [by law] to pay certain local and state taxes. However, should wireless EVDO customers be pinned to pay the same regulatory 911 fees and taxes put in place for the security of standard wireless phone customers? I’ll continue footing the bill in hopes that in the event of an accident, I can wave my EVDO modem in the air in order for emergency personnel to pinpoint my exact location after I dial-out. [digg this]