Pre-paid wireless service plans have been gaining in popularity for those who don't want to be locked into a cell phone contract. But for the state, it's an untapped resource to fund 911 emergency call services.
A bill in the state Legislature would charge a fee of 1.2 percent on pre-paid wireless plans or cards, with the revenue going into the Enhanced 911 Fund. If you're a cell phone user under contract, you've already been paying 66 cents a month for the service.
"They have been subsidizing the pre-paids, who have not been paying anything," said Courtney Tagupa, executive director of the Enhanced 911 Board, which oversees the fund.
Tagupa said the proposed fee would bring in another $1 million a year to pay for emergency call centers.
Small business advocates are opposed, saying it will cost mom-and-pop businesses more to account for the new fee. They also claim it will hit lower-income consumers, claiming they'll pay a higher fee than they would with a contract plan.
"It's for pre-paid phone services, which is basically used for those who have bad credit, or who are on a fixed income, like the elderly," said Tina Yamaki, President of the Retail Merchants of Hawaii. She said in 2016, the fund had $15 million in the bank.
"They do have money that is unencumbered, and yet they're still going after these smaller businesses," she said. "That's really going to have a bad impact on them."
The state is defending the amount, saying it's necessary to make sure emergency call centers have the latest technology and meet standards.
"When it comes to saving lives, how much do you spend?" asked Tagupa. "You spend as much as it takes so we can operate efficiently and with the best equipment in order to save lives and property."
The bill goes before the state House Consumer Protection and Commerce Committee on Thursday.