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More Fallout From FCC VoIP Decision

michael posted more than 9 years ago | from the who-you-gonna-call dept.

Communications 304

EconomyGuy writes "While many of us have been celebrating the recent FCC decision to keep regulation off of VoIP, but there may be some undesirable results for those progressive geeks who believe government should do more than provide military defense. As VoIP takes off as a replacement for the traditional copper-wire network, local and state governments are going to lose more and more funding for important services like 911 and Universal Service."

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911 is dying (3, Funny)

Ckwop (707653) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930142)

.. but have netcraft confirmed it? Seriously, they'll just place a tax on a per megabyte basis.. Nothing to see here move along.. Simon.

Re:911 is dying (In it's current form, maybe) (2, Interesting)

Zitchas (713512) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930162)

No, 911 is NOT dying. It's an essential service, and a huge portion of the North Americain population has it ingrained to call that number in case of emergency. A fair number of people don't even know that the fire/ambulance/police departments even HAVE other phone numbers. Not all, or even a majority by any stretch, but enough to be highly significant. What I see as more likely is a sort of centralization of both the telecommunication and the 911 services. If VoIP is continent wide, then eventually 911 is going to have to be too. In the future, the first question won't be whether you need Police, Ambulance, or Fire, it will be "What state or province are you in?". Doing so will probably increase the lag time in recieving 911 services, unfortunatly, but it's a heck of a lot better than loosing the service altogether. Charging a fee per Mb won't really work. Sure, they'll get to massively boost their revenue (on a per call basis, make massively more. How much traffic in a given area's actually VoIP and not, say, MMORG or bitorrent?) Sure, they'll keep the funding for 911 and others, but if everyone's shifted to VoIP, then those services will need/have a budget a tiny fraction of the size they do now, since no-one's on copper lines anymore. Unless everyone's required to have a regular line for emergencies, or something.

Re:911 is dying (In it's current form, maybe) (2, Funny)

nounderscores (246517) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930173)

How much traffic in a given area's actually VoIP and not, say, MMORG or bitorrent?

Great. More ways for people to claim that EverQuest and pirated movies cost lives.

Re:911 is dying (In it's current form, maybe) (1)

Ckwop (707653) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930186)

How much traffic in a given area's actually VoIP and not, say, MMORG or bitorrent?) Sure, they'll keep the funding for 911 and others, but if everyone's shifted to VoIP, then those services will need/have a budget a tiny fraction of the size they do now, since no-one's on copper lines anymore.

I should have stated more point more clearly. What I meant is that they'll tax ALL broadband communications - a communication tax of sorts.

I don't buy the 911 point either. You can simply design the system to "know" where you are. Government assigned IPs (esp if IPV6 comes in in a big way) to ISP gatway routers are probably going to be introduced as a way of determining the location of the punters.

In time all technology like this is regulated and most of the time the government does a good job. Governments are good at setting standards and that's exactly why we should trust them with this job.

Simon.

Simon.

Re:911 is dying (In it's current form, maybe) (1)

jacksonj04 (800021) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930495)

Actually IPv6 will make this harder than at present, because IPs aren't allocated on a geographical basis. At best you'd be able to narrow down to a single ISP, but since the IP addresses lack any form of static allocation (you read that right - static IPs aren't in the IPv6 specs) it would be even more difficult.

Back to the network provider to work out which piece of wire it's coming from.

911 sucks (4, Funny)

DigiShaman (671371) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930164)

Seriously!!! After getting shot in my 91 CRX by two thugs high on LCD, PCP, and drunk, I called the cops from a store as soon as I fled the scene. It took 30 minutes. 30 fucking minutes before I got a call back from a COP in the area through his CB radio (patched in through 911)!

It's a long story. But basically, the only that human scum got cought was because the driver passed out at the wheel.

Re:911 sucks (3, Interesting)

dattaway (3088) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930178)

Think that was bad? Someone broke into my house. Waiting time on 911 was 15 minutes. Police showed up 2 hours later.

This was four years ago. Could it possibly get any worse?

Re:911 sucks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10930516)

Why can't they just pay 911 out of the police budget? What's that you say? It's too small already? Make it bigger! (Duh) Taxing people is one thing a govt is good at. Believe me, you won't see 911 going away anytime soon.

Re:911 sucks (2, Insightful)

ccmay (116316) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930557)

Could it possibly get any worse?

Yes, it could. In this country you can normally defend yourself by force. Imagine the situation in places like England where the population has been disarmed; they are defenseless against this kind of scum.

-ccm

Re:911 sucks (4, Funny)

stoney27 (36372) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930194)

"...91 CRX by two thugs high on LCD,..."

We might have a serious problem if people can get high on LCDs. :)

-S

Re:911 sucks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10930489)

the liquid crystals........ i can... see.... through time................. ;)

Re:911 sucks (1)

Alchemar (720449) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930568)

Just stack them up and stand on top of them. At least you can get high enough to reach the stach box on top of the cabnets.

Re:911 sucks (2, Funny)

l0b0 (803611) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930664)

We might have a serious problem if people can get high on LCDs. :)
In my younger days, y'know, when CRT was going strong, y'know, I, uh, tried it, and it was just, y'know, boom! It started with a 12", but I always needed more. I used to dream of the day I could score, y'know, 21" or sum'thin. But even when I reached it, it was still, y'know, not enough. Then LCD arrived, and it was, like, a new world. Now I'm using 17", y'know, but when you're down like this, y'know, it's only the next kick that counts. If I find enough money, I'll probably get me a, uh, dual 25" or sum'thing. It'll probably kill me, but I jus' don't, y'know, care anymore.

Re:911 sucks (0)

bryanp (160522) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930391)

The only reason to dial 911 in this sort of situation is to say "Yes, I've been shot at. No, I'm okay. They left after I shot back."

Re:911 sucks (1)

pmfp (682203) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930529)

Good signature!

Just a matter of procedure (4, Insightful)

cwernli (18353) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930151)

If no taxes can be levvied on POTS anymore for funding emergency services and the like, there will surely be an alternative way of collecting those taxes.

A flat tax, for example - say $0.50/month per resident. That should cover 911-expenses.

Re:Just a matter of procedure (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10930280)

for those progressive geeks who believe government should do more than provide military defense.

Progressive geeks? Don't you mean socialists?

Re:Just a matter of procedure (1)

lew3004 (577895) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930312)

Most states already have a tax levied for 911 service (look at your next home phone bill). If it's not specifically spelled out on your bill, believe you me it's included under some other tax.

nope just tax Cell/mobile users or local gov does (2, Insightful)

johnjones (14274) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930372)

everyone should have a Cell / mobile so this is kind of moot

plus who

the local fire service gets its funding from where ? should they not fund the 911 call center ?

Township vs. County (1)

Mister G (75589) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930643)

At least in my home county, the 3-5 closest township fire departments are volunteer-only. They get some nominal funding via levies for equipment and operating expense. 911 is handled at the county level, and as such needs to be funded county wide, as opposed to eacy city, village, or township.

Most townships won't have enough operating budget to run 911 - they have a hard enough time attempting to funding schools...

Of course, this is just my experience, YMMV, etc. etc.

Re:Township vs. County (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10930741)

As a member of my local volunteer fire department, I must certainly agree with you. It's hard enough to pay for a new length of hose when one breaks, or flashlight batteries, or a portable radio. There are great costs associated with the job we do. We cannot afford to fund 911 out of our budget. The county regulates the 911 center, and as costs there increase, so do property taxes countywide. This segregation between county and township make things run much more smoothly.

VOIP scares me, just wondering how many problems there will be with getting emergency calls through in the early stages. It is indeed a promising technology--I just hope errors in the get-go don't cost too many lives when people get 911 in some other state for example.

Re:Just a matter of procedure (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10930487)

$.50/month per person should cover 911???

First you have to take out the costs of congressmen and senators fighting as to whether or not it is good and fair, then you have to pay for the new swimming pool facility in Alabama because a congressman there tacked it onto the bill, then you have to exclude anyone making over $1,000,000/year to be good for reelection, they you have to include the cost of radio services for the boarder patrol that would be tacked on...

Re:Just a matter of procedure (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10930524)

Why can't they just pay 911 out of the police budget? What's that you say? It's too small already? Make it bigger! (Duh) Taxing people is one thing a govt is good at. Believe me, you won't see 911 going away anytime soon...

Tax Cuts are going the wrong way .... (4, Interesting)

Gopal.V (532678) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930153)

VoIP is nice, but it's overrated for most purposes IMHO. It's just trading the over inflated rates that most telepone companies offer for a lossy/crackling voice channel (my experience).

I'm not American , but I see America going the wrong way and cutting funding for the wrong things (ok, it's not a socialist state) ... Education, Healthcare, Emergency services are things which have intangible returns on investment.

Imagine a police force based on capitalism .. what would be it's return on investment .... oh, wait ...

Talking about private funded police (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10930211)

In Brazil, at least the traffic police is a Private company, and it's working great for us corruption filled third worlders :)

I'm not from Brazil, but I'm willing to try a non-state police department.

PROFIT is what drives the world.

Re:Tax Cuts are going the wrong way .... (1)

Claire-plus-plus (786407) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930255)

Police force based on capitalism?

Ever read Jennifer Government [maxbarry.com] by Max Barry? (yay Australians) It has a government and a Police force run on capitalism. Before they can chase a criminal or investigate a crime they have to ask the victims for money to fund the hunt. Scary.

Re:Tax Cuts are going the wrong way .... (2, Funny)

xs650 (741277) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930398)

Organized, and some not so organized criminal groups are already way ahead of the Jennifer Gumnt Model. They find a potential victim and collect money to prevent a crime. Much more efficient.

Re:Tax Cuts are going the wrong way .... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10930318)

You want a police force based on capitalism ? Well, we already have one. We have the police focusing on monetary rewards, because their salary depends on how much fines can they get. Which is why the police can be seen booking illegal parkings, speedings, brawls and the like (in which fines are the norm), instead of preventing and solving crime !!!

Re:Tax Cuts are going the wrong way .... (1)

Phragmen-Lindelof (246056) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930467)

I saw this kind of behavior in Canberra. I was told that it ia very common in Australia.

Re:Tax Cuts are going the wrong way .... (1)

NormalVisual (565491) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930565)

And let's not forget our wonderful War On Drugs here in the U.S., which benefits almost no one outside the government and where seized assets become the property of the agency responsible for the seizure without the benefit of due process in many cases. If we could get the legislature to change the law such that speeding fines and other monetary penalties went into the state's general fund instead of going to the agency responsible for said fines, I think it would take away a lot of the incentive for some of the ridiculous fines and seizures we see nowadays.

Re:Tax Cuts are going the wrong way .... (3, Insightful)

gad_zuki! (70830) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930427)

The beauty of VoIP for home is that if you already have a cable modem you can finally ditch that landline, thus saving you $40 a month or so. Not to mention that land line is getting pretty useless when most people are also sporting cell phones.

>Education, Healthcare, Emergency services

Saving $40 a month is almost $500 a year which goes a long way towards paying off hefty healthcare bills and credit cards to make up for our lack of services.

It won't come to that... (5, Funny)

DeTHZiT (631864) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930154)

I'm sure that it will never become an issue. 911 is such an important, fundamental service, it will always be offered. Besides, as Big Brotherish as the government is these days, you could probably just call the free "terrorist hint line" and tell them Osama Bin Laden is trying to steal your car...

Couldn't 911 wire VoIP into their switchboard (3, Insightful)

nounderscores (246517) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930171)

and treat VoIP calls and pots calls the same?

Wouldn't somebody with a VoIP phone servuce provider like http://www.usbphone.com.au/ [usbphone.com.au] that has a call relay station that can call land lines not be considered to be Universally covered?

After all some places are too expensive to do last mile wiring for for pots, but you can justify using wireless links to cover that area for wireless internet.

In this case, the govt might be able to achieve 911 and universal service without spending a dime, and pushing the cost back onto the consumer... which is either a bad or a good thing depending if you're blue or red... but the services will not need to disappear.

(ps... is it just me or is it odd that "red" meant "communist" last century and "freemarketeer" today?)

Re:Couldn't 911 wire VoIP into their switchboard (2, Interesting)

mdfst13 (664665) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930220)

"Couldn't 911 wire VoIP into their switchboard and treat VoIP calls and pots calls the same?"

Sure, but how would that help them collect taxes to pay for it? Currently, there is a special tax on my phone bill that goes entirely to fund 911 service. They aren't allowed to charge that tax to VoIP users. Note that this tax is not charged for calling 911; it's charged for having a POTS phone.

It's not like 911 pays for calls made *TO* them now. Their main costs are for personnel to answer the calls and dispatch the police. Their salaries are paid by a tax on phone service. No tax, no salaries, no 911. Of course, they could just pay for 911 out of the police budget, which would make more sense anyway (and be more progressive; the 911 tax is on a per phone basis; police are funded by property taxes, where more wealth means more property and thus more taxes).

Re:Couldn't 911 wire VoIP into their switchboard (1)

MrSnivvel (210105) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930753)

Of course, they could just pay for 911 out of the police budget, which would make more sense anyway...

Mod parent up

They don't collect enough tax? (5, Insightful)

JPriest (547211) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930160)

Between State tax, Federal tax, Social Secirity tax, Town tax, Property tax, and sales tax I pay something like 45 - 50% of my income in tax, plus I still pay taxes on all utilities and gas I put in my car.

They can't let me have internet and VoIP without paying taxes on that too?

Re:They don't collect enough tax? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10930176)

Between State tax, Federal tax, Social Secirity tax, Town tax, Property tax, and sales tax I pay something like 45 - 50% of my income in tax, plus I still pay taxes on all utilities and gas I put in my car.

Taxes are the cost for living in civilization, minus the military of course.

Re:They don't collect enough tax? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10930248)

Taxes are the cost for living in civilization, minus the military of course.

Then, ah, you would probably be in favor of 100% taxation so we can maximize how civilized we can be, right? And be defenseless.

Fuckwit.

Re:They don't collect enough tax? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10930266)

And be defenseless.

Wrong. The State Department should be kept. Diplomacy will be the new defense. We will be *offenseless*, in other words without a military. Defense does not equal imperialism.

Re:They don't collect enough tax? (1)

sonamchauhan (587356) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930273)

> Diplomacy will be the new defense.

Osama and gang will be happy to know this. Thank God Bush won.

Re:They don't collect enough tax? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10930287)

Osama and gang will be happy to know this.

The United Nations was started for a reason, despite Bush's undermining of it. International cooperation and treating terrorism as a crime rather than a declaration of war would solve the terrorism threat.

Acting like a macho cowboy and starting wars against ethnic groups hasn't made the world any safer. Can you honestly say that the world is better now than it was when Clinton was in office? I wonder why?

Re:They don't collect enough tax? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10930353)

Ghengis Khan, among others, proved you wrong.

Sometimes, as unfortunate as it might be, people just need to be written off. I'm sorry if it gets in the way of your delicate sensibilities, might might not make right (as this administration has ably proven) but it does make rights. The age of enlightenment bullshit is clouding your judgement with emotion, which would be fine, if they weren't so frequently wrong.

People are not always reasonable, in fact they're very frequently completely unreasonable. Our problems with terrorism are predicated on our misinformed hope that those who hate us can come to understand the truth if only they have the opportunity to see it. This has been repeatedly proven false. In this our reason, and expectation of reason is our weakness. If we respond with gravely disproportunate force, their assumptions, which the success of their terrorism rests on, will be proven false. They have missed out on their chance at religious reformation, and it was by their own choosing. Now we can pressure them to reform now, by killing them wholesale from over the horizon, or we can wait till it gets worse and kill nearly all of them everywhere and plan to let them have a limited monopoly on casinos in century or so. They're the ones who want this to be a Wahabi Islam for everyone or death proposition. We can't make them be reasonable. That's a choice they have to make for themselves. All we can do is deal with their current choice. Of those two, I've got to go with a swift, dispassionate death for them, and everyone they know delivered same-day by Raytheon. This has been coming on for CENTURIES, before it was too expensive to deal with it, now it's too expensive to wait any longer.

Re:They don't collect enough tax? (1)

sonamchauhan (587356) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930430)

> Can you honestly say that the world is better now than it was when Clinton was in office?

Yes.

Also, 9/11 was finalized on Clinton's watch.

Killing Muslims does indeed make the world safer (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10930581)

Acting like a macho cowboy and starting wars against ethnic groups hasn't made the world any safer.

Are you sure? We haven't had a single attack in this country since we took the fight to the Mahometan filth.

And it's not an ethnic group we're fighting, it's a demented cult called Islam. I look forward to the day when Israeli soldiers piss on the rubble of the Kaaba, and Allah the moon demon is worshipped only in Hell.

PS. You must be a European. No American would consider it an insult to be called a cowboy.

Re:Killing Muslims does indeed make the world safe (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10930729)

PS. You must be a European. No American would consider it an insult to be called a cowboy.

Let me let you in on a shocker: I'm a native-born TEXAN! That's unlike Bush, who was born in a blue state: Connecticut.

Here in Texas, a cowboy doesn't need to put up a front the way Bush does. You'll never see a real cowboy puff up his chest and say "you're either with us or against us." The authentic ones are humble blue-collar laborers who care about the earth, animals, and people. Folks who are receptive to progressive causes I might add.

4 Words: Fuck the Red States (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10930230)

Good. I'll be glad to see the death of universal service charges. Let the hicks who live out in the boonies pay for their own infrastructure. I look foreward to the slashdot article about the new TCP/Smoke signal speed record.

Re:They don't collect enough tax? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10930448)

Shit man, you need a new accountant, and quick!

Only a fool pays that much in taxes.

Well, as a Libertarian... (4, Informative)

cfalcon (779563) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930167)

I would argue that it's simply not the government's role to burden communications with taxes.

One argument in the article is "not taxing this is not fair, because regular phones are taxed". This is a true statement, but I would argue that the *existing* taxes are an arbitrary joke: Americans are forced to pay per minute rates on "long distance" (meaning, another state, even though the actual route to another state and the same one could end up using the exact same satellite). Why? Well, it's because the goverment *taxes* based on per minute usage. Stating that the only way to achieve equality is to apply the same flawed system equally is not good logic.

If the functionality of 911 is so important (I believe it is), then other ways can be brought about to pay for it. With the current market penetration of phones, it's not unreasonable to assume that almost everyone has access to 911, so an alternate method could be used, one that taxes everyone just as the current system does. It could even be rolled trivially into property taxes, it's can't be much because it's itemized on my monthly phone bill, and it is tiny.

Saying that the only way we'll have goverment phone services or local governments gaining relevant revenue is to allow regulation of VOIP is beyond silly. There may be a difficult time of transition, but it's clear that progress is on the side of the new technology.

But it's clear from the article what the *real* problem is:

"The City of Seattle in 2003 collected $30 million from telephone utility taxes, its fourth largest source of revenue after property, B&O, and sales taxes."

Here the argument becomes, "A technology to allow people to communicate was developed, and we allowed governments to tax it. Now that an alternative has come along, we need to allow governments to tax it or else the governments won't be getting as much of your money as they are used to."

This is the same logic that would shut down an invention that generates endless free energy (Look at that electricity tax / the private sector that exists to deliver energy!), that would shut down an invention that creates delicious food out of thin air (sales tax / destroying the livelihood of farmers), a great solution in medicine that allowed people to be free of their various prescription drug dependencies... the same idea would oppose all of these things.

Stepping out of utopia land, we can address the one thing we *can* replicate nearly for free, and realize that it is the same logic opposing free software.

It is not good logic.

Re:Well, as a Libertarian... (2, Insightful)

putko (753330) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930238)

Your logic is impeccable.

Something that really bugs me: cars cause pollution. Fine -- tax all cars, to remedy those whose lives are ruined by pollution. But phone service doesn't cause more 911 calls, nor directly create more poor people (who now need money, so that they can have a subsidised phone).

I'm referring my two peeves on the phone bill: 911 service and so-called "Universal Service Fund" phone service (taxes to pay for phone service for the poor).

If we want to be fair about 911 service, perhaps we should tax proportional to the benefit of 911 service -- e.g. tax the high-crime neighborhoods. Ask any cop where the 911 calls come from - he can tell you who needs to pay for the service. If you are going to call this "mean", how "nice" is it that I have to pay for calls generated by crime-ridden neighborhoods, and I have no way to mitigate things?

The Universal Service Fund (USF) -- the you have money, so you must pay for those that don't have money -- is the most un-American thing on the phone bill.

Imagine someone invents something new -- like a bicycle. "USF" bicycle service would say that if you ride a bike, you need to pay into a fund, to provide "affordable bicycle service" to those too poor to get a bike.

But it is arbitrary too -- you can duck the wealth-redistribution by getting a skateboard (where there is no USF, which applies to bikes only).

If you're too poor to afford a phone, just open your window and yell. Write a letter. Do whatever you did before the device existed. Keep your hand out of my pocket.

Re:Well, as a Libertarian... (1, Insightful)

sonamchauhan (587356) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930267)

> If you're too poor to afford a phone, just open your window and yell.
> ..
> Keep your hand out of my pocket.

It's the US govt. who (lawfully) puts their hand in your pocket for things like this. The very definition of a country means that some people end up "footing the bill" for others less fortunate than them.

Get used to it. If you don't want to keep your end of this bargain, renounce your citizenship.

BULLSHIT bullshit bullshit (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10930307)

"The very definition of a country means that some people end up "footing the bill" for others less fortunate than them."

BULLSHIT!
What are you, from frickn north korea or something?!?!
That's a definition of socialist wealth THEFT, dumbass.

"Get used to it."
How about YOU get used to new technology putting people's lives back into their OWN hands, and not some moonbat leftist's nanny-state...cause it's only gonna get better(or worse, in your case)

"If you don't want to keep your end of this bargain, renounce your citizenship."
BARGAIN?!?!? HAHAHHAA!
Getting mugged by socialists isn't a bargain...you don't make a 'bargain' with cancer...it takes your life away bit by bit and kills you...see:east germany,russia,north korea,etc....

BTW, weren't YOU whackjobs supposed to renounce YOUR citizenship and move to kanuckistan or eurotrashland after you got your ASSES HANDED TO YOU BY G.W.??!?! (assuming you're american, and if not,well..your opinion has been debunked years ago)

Re:BULLSHIT bullshit bullshit (1)

j0e_average (611151) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930371)

MOD PARENT UP!!!


It's sad to think that our country is so dramatically split on this very issue. It seems that most citizens are content to let the government provide the services of a wet-nurse, under the guise of "helping those that are less fortunate". This bullshit goes against my right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness". Instead, my hard-earned dollars are confiscated "for the greater good". A pox on all you non-productive parasites!

Re:BULLSHIT bullshit bullshit (1)

sonamchauhan (587356) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930418)

It seems that most citizens are content to let the government provide the services of a wet-nurse, under the guise of "helping those that are less fortunate".

No. If a man can work, and does not, he has no right to be helped. Abuses of the system exist, and must be ended.

But helping those who are less fortunate is the contract that underwrites _every_ nation in the world today. Ever wonder why the government doesn't tax you if your income is under a certain level? Or why medicare exists. Well, it's because the government is trying to help those who are less fortunate that us richer folks - that's why!

GWB calls this compassionate conservatism. I'm happy he has this position.

Unfortunately, a lot of terminally greedy call themselves "conservatives", and hitch a ride on his wagon, but have no love for anyone else outside a small charmed circle of those that love them. These can go to hell.

Re:BULLSHIT bullshit bullshit (2, Insightful)

MrSnivvel (210105) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930711)

But helping those who are less fortunate is the contract that underwrites _every_ nation in the world today. Ever wonder why the government doesn't tax you if your income is under a certain level? Or why medicare exists. Well, it's because the government is trying to help those who are less fortunate that us richer folks - that's why!

Please point out where in the United States of America's Constitution that I am bound by contract to help those "less fortunate" than me, since we are talking in a discussion about a US Federal government. If you look at the document, it is basically an agreement amoung State Republics to establish free trade, a common currency, a postal system, and how to interact with other nations.

With regard to the main discussion: A point that does not seem to be brought up is the fact the FCC gave itself and only itself the power to regulate VoIP. This power to regulate was not given by an act of Congress, but by a decision the FCC itself made.

It's unfortunate, IMHO, that we are commenting and debating over the outcome of such rulings. The questions that need to be asked, debated, and answered are:

  1. Is regulation of communications necessary and desirable?
  2. If so, does the desired regulation have a constituional standing (Federal, State, local, etc.)?
  3. If so, what would be the extent of such regulation?

I would say no.

Re:BULLSHIT bullshit bullshit (1)

sonamchauhan (587356) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930383)

> ASSES HANDED TO YOU BY G.W.??!?!

Fool: I am a GWB supporter.

Reread my post and understand - it is correct.

Re:BULLSHIT bullshit bullshit (1)

Phragmen-Lindelof (246056) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930460)

"The very definition of a country means that some people end up "footing the bill" for others less fortunate than them."
BULLSHIT! What are you, from frickn north korea or something?!?! That's a definition of socialist wealth THEFT, dumbass.


I assume you also object to projessive income tax, publically funded K-12 education, etc. It sounds to me as if you do not want to pay for anything. I would not be surprised if you were the first person to complain about a pothole in the road. You sound like a spoiled brat.

me me me (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10930296)

Keep your hand out of my pocket.

Yes, but how does that help ME?

Your information isn't. (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10930385)

The USF is to pay for the infrastructure in rural areas. Plenty of rich people live in rural areas. So I agree, fuck republicans, dirt cheap phone and data service for liberals. I don't want to talk to anyone Wyoming anyway.

But you could learn a thing or two about economics. See no one wants to pay for infrastructure, but an infrastructure that's cheap for everyone to use generates a lot more commerce which inevitably enriches everyone. People like you, who don't advocate a cheap infrastructure, are really anti-trade, and pro Scrooge McDuck. And when the pendulem swings back, it always does, the consequences might make the reformations of Teddy and Freddy Rossevelt seem tame.

Re:Your information isn't. (1)

Phragmen-Lindelof (246056) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930508)

an infrastructure that's cheap for everyone to use generates a lot more commerce which inevitably enriches everyone.
This is a very insightful comment. It should not be insightful but just common knowledge. Unfortunately, very few people in the world "understand" economics. Some of them may be able to quote economic theory but they do not accept it. It is like smokers who know about health warnings but find excuses so they can claim that thousands of studies on the health effects of tabacco are wrong. Just like evolution, economics will influence our society even if people deny economic theory (or evolution) has any validity.

boo hoo (4, Informative)

eclectro (227083) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930170)

local and state governments are going to lose more and more funding for important services like 911 and Universal Service

I would agree 911 is an important phone service and should be provided.

But all the other taxes?? I don't think so.

The universl service fund was established to provide phone to rural areas. The question I have is "aren't rural areas wired already?". About internet for schools -- I say let the people who go to those schools pay for their own internet like I do. Libraries? I pay through the teeth through property taxes (Utah) already for library facilities.

So much as the federal taxes go -- the federal tax was placed on the phone to pay for the war of 1812 -- isn't that war over and paid for yet? I know it has been used to pay for all the other wars since then, maybe I don't like to see war financed through my phone use.

I know this is an oversimplification, but this represents a deep resentment of the government as it stands today, and I'm not to sure if I care if it crashes and burns. I'm sure others feel the same way -- that Washington (and many local governments) have lost touch with reality, as have the voters who keep "liars" in office on the basis of "moral" grounds.

Yes I'm mad. Phone service can go away. I'll start to use carrier pigeon if necessary.

Re:boo hoo (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10930216)

The universl service fund was established to provide phone to rural areas. The question I have is "aren't rural areas wired already?".

The cost of maintaining and upgrading the wiring in rural areas has not been paid for already.

-- ac

Re:boo hoo (1)

eclectro (227083) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930258)

The cost of maintaining and upgrading the wiring in rural areas has not been paid for already.

Damm, I wonder why [public-i.org]

Re:boo hoo (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10930249)

The war of 1812? Federal phone tax? 1812? Phone? I don't know about that.

Re:boo hoo (1)

eclectro (227083) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930270)

I meant the Spanish American war of 1898 [nwtrcc.org]

Any case, for as long as phones have been in existance, and war has been the justification for the tax.

Re:boo hoo (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10930483)

The universl service fund was established to provide phone to rural areas. The question I have is "aren't rural areas wired already?".

Sadly, no. Phone companies want to charge an on-going premium for servicing rural areas. The fact is, it costs more money to build and maintain a long, low-density telecommunications network.

Law forces the phone companies to bill urban and rural customers the same. That's why if you live 120 miles from the city, your landline costs the same as living downtown (although the cost to the phone company is shockingly less expensive in urban areas).

As someone who lives in Oklahoma, I'm glad that I don't have to pay $200/month for telephone service. So are my grandparents. By the way, there is NO cell phone service my area, and I don't see cell phone service coming to my area.

This is one federal regulation that should stay in place for the financial well-being of the working people and elderly people in the heartland. Sure, it ends up costing those in the urban areas more, but they have to eat, don't they?

Re:boo hoo (2, Insightful)

eclectro (227083) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930670)

I say we unplug the Universal Service Fraud [1010phonerates.com]

You have a phone line, don't you? The honest truth is that it is an unjustified subsidy for telephone companies. I think that when the fund was first established, it may have been justified (if there was oversight, which there isn't). But hasn't technology advanced to the point where the cost is dramatically lower than when the fund was first established in 1983?

In the olden days when there was an operator behind the switchboard this may have been an issue. But now everything is computerized, especially the switching centers. And if there is a line break in your town some lowly tech in Atlanta (or whever your baby bell is headquartered, maybe even India now) can tell within feet where the line break is. And when you call the operator for assistance, do you really think that the operator is down the street?

I'm really sure the companies really love this bit of pork thrown to them, and have a whole line of lobbyists to whine to congress to change nothing.

If the Universal Service Fund were killed you would still have phone service (and at the same cost). Don't be fooled by greedy companies shouting about the sky falling.

"Don't tax me or u. Tax that guy behind that tree" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10930188)

911 becomes a paid in advance subscription service and universal phone service becomes a beg-a-thon funded charity.

We obviously can't tax corporations that are sworn to make a profit no matter who they have to bribe, what they have to pollute, or lie they have to tell.

And we're giving money BACK to the rich; can't be a flip-flopper and now increase their taxes - after all who will give to the beg-a-thons if we take a million from a billionaire?

Besides, government is too big. It should only be used to help corporations lower their labor cost and protect their overseas investments.

Don't get me started on libraries, those damnable socialistic free-thinker homeless-friendly purveyors of dangerous data.

Re:"Don't tax me or u. Tax that guy behind that tr (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10930701)

Don't get me started on libraries, those damnable socialistic free-thinker homeless-friendly purveyors of dangerous data.

Without libraries, where would the homeless sleep during the day when it's cold out?

Cleptocracy is not progressive! (5, Insightful)

hanssprudel (323035) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930195)

local and state governments are going to lose more and more funding for important services like 911 and Universal Service.

Almost everybody agrees that 911 service is necessary, but it is far from obvious why this cannot be paid for by properly visible government spending, rather then trying to sneak it in like a backdoor tax on a specific service. Governments love to add little taxes here and there so as to make it opaque how much they are actually spending, leading a government with it's fingers everywhere hindering progress with useless regulation aimed only at preserving dying industries and the revenue government derives from them. Which is exactly what our "progressive" friend is saying should happen to VoIP.

As for Universal Service, give me a break. People who live in rural areas don't pay special taxes so that I can get clean air, silence, and nice natural surroundings in the middle of the city. Why the hell should they? After all I chose to live here, which it's upsides (like 8 megabit broadband to the apartment) and its downsides. The same goes for people who want to live in rural areas: they chose to live where they do, and that means taking the benefits as well as the consquences, instead of crying that others should have to pay for your luxuries.

Perhaps one day when I am older I will begin to understand how a human mind can work that calls itself progressive, and then attacks progress because it might get in the way large governments clectrocractic systems. I certainly don't now...

Re:Cleptocracy is not progressive! (4, Insightful)

standards (461431) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930552)

Almost everybody agrees that 911 service is necessary, but it is far from obvious why this cannot be paid for by properly visible government spending, rather then trying to sneak it in like a backdoor tax on a specific service.

The 911 service tax is VERY visible on my telephone bill. In fact, it's a line item. It's much more visible than the amount of money taxes I spend on nuclear submarine building, for example.

It seems reasonable to fund 911 services per phone number. It seems more fair and visible than taxing everyone's wage income by another $3 per year. I think this kind of use fee is fair and reasonable and should be encouraged because it does bring visibility to real expenses.

Now, on the flip side, the bogus "regulatory fees" line item that the phone companies make up based on mostly on their marketing expenditures, now THEY are a problem!

So levy the broadband provider instead (2, Insightful)

rhysweatherley (193588) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930199)

With more and more people moving to broadband, which is typically served out of a local telco or cable operator switch, what's the problem? Levy the 911 fees or what-not off that instead, perhaps with a rebate if you're already paying the levy on a separate connection.

This is just another beat-up by the telcos who are afraid of VOIP. They should get into the data carriage business, and concentrate on delivering high speed data pipes to every home instead.

It's the wire going in the door that you levy, stupid, not the protocol going over the wire! And those wires are in local neighborhoods, subject to local taxes. Just like they've always been.

Re:So levy the broadband provider instead (1)

Rosyna (80334) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930599)

If you tax the provider, the provider passes the tax onto the consumer anyways. Usually this is in the form of a much higher bill or hidden fees (usually labeled as Federal something or other) which are much more than the tax they are actually being charged.

For example, this portable number thing or cell phones that recently was enacted in the US. The provider has to pay for this as a tax. Companies like Verizon actually charge the consumer much higher than they are charged to recoup (and make a profit on) the new fees. T-Mobile, on the other hand, was reported to not only eat the cost but to give current subscribers 50 extra minutes at no cost.

Political Correctness Alert !! (2, Insightful)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930204)



"While many of us have been celebrating the
recent FCC decision to keep regulation off of
VoIP, but there may be some undesirable results
for those progressive geeks who believe
government should do more than provide military
defense."

I cringe everytime when I read PC-speaks like the above - they just change EVERYTHING to suit their own narrow view !

For instance - they call themselves "progressive", while in reality, they are for BIG GOVERNMENT !

Please, keep your PC to yourself and don't pollute the geek scene !

Thank you.

Re:Political Correctness Alert !! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10930219)

Please, keep your PC to yourself and don't pollute the geek scene !

Yes, we should seek out and eliminate such pollutants.

Thank you for assuming that the geek scene is a political monolith consisting of ESR clones.

-- ac

Re:Political Correctness Alert !! (1)

sholden (12227) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930256)

For instance - they call themselves "progressive", while in reality, they are for BIG GOVERNMENT !

When have "progressives" ever not been for big government?

Of course the term has been used by many different ideologies, just like here in Oz the main conservative party is the "Liberal Party", but left-of-centre-left (and sometimes far left) is the common group is identifies.

Re:Political Correctness Alert !! (2, Informative)

NBarnes (586109) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930282)

What do you think 'progressive' means? Christ.

As for the hoary and facile 'big government' trope... dude, really. Look at the election returns over the last 16 years. That ship has bloody well sailed. There's a reason that domestic discretionary spending has been rising faster under Bush than under Clinton, there's a reason that a Republican Congress passed a huge (and I do mean huge) Medicare expansion which was signed by a Republican president, there's a reason that No Child Left Behind represents one of the biggest power grabs from local governments to the federal government in the last 30 years. The (political) argument over the size of the federal government is over, and your side didn't win. The majority, the vast majority, of the voting population wants bigger government. They want college grants for their children, as much health care as they can get, and insurance against disaster and/or old age.

Now, it is possible to make an argument that they shouldn't want these things. But your side has lost, and lost hard, politically speaking.

Liberal Speak (1)

dammy (131759) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930616)

I'm still laughing at the use of the word "Progressive" as if people are not smart enough to realize it's "Liberalism" rebadged to fool people. Come on, give your selves a big old hug and love yourself enough to proudly shout out to the world, "I'm a Liberal!" (Side note to the Europeans who are confused on the use of US political labels, classical conservatives/liberals definitions reversed themselves in the US about a century ago.)

For the 911 tax, who cares? The 911 centers are paid for by local property taxes. If you can setup VOIP, your smart enough to know how to input the required 911 routing information in /etc/. Yes Liberal Tech (or should that be Tax?) Geeks, if you think losing 911 taxes are going to cut into your socialist agenda, your going to be SCREAMING about hydrogren fuel production really cutting into the Federal Revenue streams. What's more important to you, cleaner enviroment, thumbing your nose at Big Oil/OPEC *or* Federal spending on your agenda?

Dammy

"Progressive" my ass (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10930233)

That's more like degenerative, what you describe, with the Government having its hand in every nook and cranny. We need smaller government, so that the invisible hand may provide for all.

just the facts ma'am (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10930234)

http://www.researchedge.com/uss/dev.html

DEVELOPMENT AND INSTITUTIONALIZING OF UNIVERSAL SERVICE
Historical Context:

The term "Universal Service" was introduced in 1907 by Theodore Vail, then President of AT&T. However, in the early twentieth century it had quite a different meaning in practice. Due to basic incompatibility or a lack of interconnection, competing local phone companies could often not connect their respective customers to each other. "Dual service" or subscribing to both services with the attendant duplicate wiring and equipment was common, especially for businesses. Thus, Universal Service at first meant compatibility and interconnectivity of competing phone services that we today take for granted. It was only later that the term "Universal Service" became associated with a social compact to connect those disadvantaged by geography, income or other factors.

The Mann-Elkins Act of 1910 gave regulatory jurisdiction for interstate telecommunications to the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC), defining telephone companies as "common carriers" who were "to provide service on request at just and reasonable rates, without unjust discrimination or undue preference." The Communications Act of 1934, though not naming "Universal Service" specifically, lays out its basic tenets "so as to make available, so far as possible, to all people of the United States a rapid, efficient, nation-wide, and world-wide wire and radio communication service with adequate facilities at reasonable charges." Establishing the separate Federal Communications Commission, the act gave the commission new powers to regulate tariffs and services but expressly limited federal authority to interstate service. In 1994, the sixtieth anniversary of the Communications Act of 1934, President Bill Clinton said:

When President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed this historic legislation so many years ago, few realized the dramatic changes in communications that the future would hold. Yet that stroke of the pen ushered in the beginnings of the Information Age, an era in which vast amounts of knowledge flow freely across continents and circle the globe in a matter of seconds.

Today, as we celebrate the vision of the authors of the Communications Act, we are still defining the role that telecommunications technology will play in our society. With a universe of electronic information at our fingertips, we can better educate our people, promote democracy, save lives, and create jobs across America. As we work to enhance the partnership between the public and private sectors, we continue to draw inspiration from the original Communications Act, which has long served to benefit all of our citizens and to propel our nation into the future.
(Federal Communications Law Journal, Vol. 47, No. 2, December, 1994)

There subsequently developed a series of programs, structures and protocols to encourage and enforce the expectation that basic local and long distance telephone service be available to all. The major components insuring ubiquitous availability of plain old telephone service (POTS) and other consumer services such as "free" broadcasting have been as follows:

Universal Service Fund (USF):

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), anticipating the breakup of the Bell System, established the National Exchange Carrier Association (NECA) in 1983 as a membership association of local telephone companies. NECA is a non-profit company directly regulated by the FCC to establish and administer interstate access revenues, access charge pooling and administer the Universal Service Fund (USF) to provide assistance to telephone companies in high-cost areas (primarily rural, but defined as those with costs in excess of 115 percent of the national average). The funds are collected from major long distance carriers and administered and dispensed by NECA. The funds are used to extend telephone service to previously unserved areas, help pay for system extensions and to keep basic rates low.

Due to concerns about the Universal Service Fund's overall growth rate and annual growth fluctuations, the FCC adopted interim rules in December 1993 imposing an indexed cap on Fund payments for 1994 and 1995 pending completion of a broader proceeding on reforming the high cost area telephone assistance program. The USF expense adjustment for 1994 was projected as $741.5 million, however it was limited by a cap of $725.4 million. The USF expense adjustment for 1995 was projected as $777 million and capped at $749.2 million. The Arizona USF assistance for 1995 (capped) is $14.5 million.

NECA has had a policy of encouraging the investments of small telephone companies in new technologies. In their most recent study of telecommunications infrastructure (1993) covering 1194 small telephone companies, NECA tracked the deployment of fiber optics, digital switching and digital services. The study revealed that, despite their limited customer base and fairly broad service areas, NECA member companies continue a high rate of investment in modern central office switching, outside plant and signaling systems. Over 65 percent of these small telephone company customers had equal access to competitive long distance carriers up from 35 percent in 1991 (the FCC reports in February 1995 a 90% conversion for independent phone companies) and over 91 percent had access to digital switching.

An evolving definition of Universal Service should be the foundation of a future national telecommunications policy. With technological advances making new services more affordable, subscribers are no longer content with "plain old telephone service." No community should be denied the opportunity to participate in and benefit from this exciting new network of the future. NECA 1993 Study - Building the Telecommunications Infrastructure of Rural America

Lifeline Assistance Programs - SLC Waivers and Link-Up America:

The Lifeline Assistance Programs are designed to aid low income residential subscribers. Again, funds are collected from long distance carriers and administered by NECA. Each state decides whether to participate and its public utility commission sets policies and guidelines governing the specific program implementation in that state.

As of April, 1989, the Subscriber Line Charge (SLC) for all residential subscribers to the public switched network rose from $1.00 to $3.50. To prevent subscribers from being forced off the network, the FCC established an SLC waiver program in 1985 where those customers meeting a state determined means test would have the full SLC charge waived if the state provided an equal reduction in either local service charges, connection charges or deposit requirements. NECA reports that in 1994, the SLC waiver fund was $123.4 million providing an average $2.34 per month in assistance to 4.4 million subscribers in the 35 participating states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands. In Arizona, 9,146 subscribers benefited from $308,402 in SLC waiver subsidies last year.

The second program, Link-Up America, attempts to reduce the entry barrier for new low income subscribers by paying half the cost of telephone installation and connection charges up to $30. Though the participants must again qualify under a state determined means test, the state is not required to further contribute to reducing the hookup costs. A second part of the program covers the interest charges for any deferred payment plan on installation and startup costs that the telephone company provides (within specified limits). NECA reports that in 1994, the Link-Up America program fund of $18.6 million covered 839,470 subscribers in the 48 participating states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. In Arizona, 367 subscribers benefited from $8,533 in Link-Up America subsidies last year.

Various studies have shown that these Lifeline Assistance programs have indeed had positive effects in getting subscribers onto the networks and in keeping them connected. States not participating in either program have shown lower level of total subscribership, especially for those households on public assistance.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Telecommunications Financing:

Since 1949, the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has provided loans to small telephone companies serving rural areas to assure the availability of affordable, high quality service. Approximately 950 loans have been provided at interest rates below market, even below the cost of money to the government. This has led to over 96 percent of U.S. farms having telephone service and allowed the formation and survival of many small rural telephone companies as cooperatives. These coops would otherwise be unlikely to raise sufficient capital to initially build or modernize without access to such subsidized loans. If original qualified borrowers are acquired by larger telephone companies, these firms can continue to receive subsidized capital to modernize their rural areas.

Still, for the estimated 65 million Americans living in rural communities, problems remain with access to advanced telecommunications services. Most rural Americans still find online and Internet access prohibitively expensive since they must pay for a long-distance call to the nearest "point of presence." Further, while almost 80% of libraries in cities over 250,000 inhabitants have some Internet connectivity, only 17% of rural libraries do. The availability of high speed connections (i.e. - ISDN, frame relay, T-1, T-3) for rural institutions and businesses usually lags urban availability within a region, though some small LECs are upgrading faster than the BOCs.

The USDA's Rural Utilities Service (RUS) in FY 1994, used $12.2 million in funds to generate more than $500 million in Federal loans and loan guarantees, which in turn leveraged $2 billion in private investment in rural telecommunications infrastructure. In a typical year, RUS borrowers provide initial telecommunications services to over 62,000 families, install 6,000 miles of fiber optic cable, and purchase over 200 new digital switches. RUS also has a Distance Learning and Medical Link Grant Program which in FY 1994 made $10 million in grants to rural schools and health care providers to connect them to the National Information Infrastructure leveraged with an additional $15 million of private investments. They have proposed a new $100 million loan program for FY 1996 to further finance their goals of rural connectivity. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) also has a Rural Telemedicine Grant Program managed by their Office of Rural Health Policy. (Source: USDA RUS publications)

In addition, the USDA is developing a new Rural Business Telecommunications Partnership Loan Program to leverage government loans with rural investment capital to fund locally shared, end-user telecommunications facilities. The purpose of this program is to provide access to advanced telecommunications services and computer networks to improve rural job opportunities, stimulate local economies, and give rural businesses the opportunity to compete nationally and globally. An industry trade association, the National Rural Telecom Association (NRTA) has as its primary role the preservation of REA's role as the major provider of funds for rural telephone services.

Rate Averaging and Internal Cross-Subsidization:

State Public Utility Commissions require Local Exchange Carriers to charge the same rate for residences located throughout the often large geographic areas that each serves. This reallocates the actual costs to equalize or average rates across the LEC's service area independent of customer density and distance from switching offices, in effect subsidizing high-cost rural customers.

The Local Exchange Carriers are also closely regulated by the states as to approved tariffs, price caps and rate of return on their investments. LECs are allowed to charge fees above their cost for providing access to long distance carriers and the toll services charged to residential subscribers, with these revenues used to hold down the cost of basic residential service.

Assistive Technology for the Disabled:

Many Americans have physical disabilities which require special consideration in telecommunications as well as in other areas. With the growing percentage of older Americans, it's likely that the need for enhanced services and assistive technology will grow. In 1990, Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandating the availability of interstate and intrastate telecommunications relay services to aid individuals with hearing and speech disabilities. In 1994, the Technology-Related Assistance Act was reauthorized. The United States has established the principles of a disability policy that stress inclusion, not exclusion; independence, not dependence; and empowerment, not paternalism.

The FCC adopted standards for Telecommunications Relay Service (TRS) providers, set forth a state certification program and appointed the National Exchange Carrier Association (NECA) to administer a fund. All common carriers contribute to the TRS fund on the basis of their interstate revenues. TRS providers then draw from the fund and include local telephone companies, long distance companies, state relay agencies and non-profit agencies operating state TRS programs. In operation, the individual with hearing or speech disability uses a text telephone (TTY) to call a toll-free TRS provider. A Communications Assistant (CA) then acts as speaking intermediary in placing the call to the intended destination and mediating the communication between the parties. States often oversee the availability and distribution of TTY terminals. Also, in most states, there are reduced telephone rates for handicapped subscribers and directory assistance charges are waived.

The FCC has long required that pay phones and emergency phones be compatible with hearing aids. Under a current proposal, most business telephones would be required to be hearing aid compatible by January 1, 2000 and existing business phone systems upgraded by 2005. Because this compatibility refers to the placement of an electromagnetic coil in telephone handsets, it is only effective with the estimated 1.8 million users of hearing aids containing a complementary electromagnetic coil (T-Coil). It does nothing for the balance of the 6 million hearing aid users (out of a total of 28 million Americans with hearing loss), but volume amplification controls and other technological solutions can offer some assistance.

The mandating of closed-captioning capability for most new television sets also aids the hearing impaired with the textual display of a programs audio content for an increasing proportion of the television programming delivered. A side benefit of such text displays can be the teaching or augmentation of reading skills to those not proficient in the English language.

Broadcast Radio and Television:

Broadcast radio followed by television has primarily been sent out to the public at no cost, being supported by advertisers (or in the case of public radio and television by government, public institutions, sponsors and listeners). Once one bought the receiving radio or television, the only residual cost was a modest amount of electrical power. Some of the same rural availability issues remain, but by and large, consumers have had free access to an enormous wealth (some would say dearth) of programming material. The advent of cable television altered the model, charging a basic fee for connection and programming as well as premium fees for extended services, however local broadcast options have remained free and available. Satellite broadcasting to consumers with dishes now down to 18 inches in size and sold for less than $600, helps solve rural access by equalizing access costs (though the entry barrier still remains too high for the economically disadvantaged). Though not part of the formal definition of Universal Service, and largely unidirectional in information and entertainment delivery, these broadcast mediums have set the stage for consumer expectations, broad media and visual literacy, and more advanced, interactive services to come.

Libraries as Public Repositories and Access Points:

As we approach the 21st century, a momentous telecommunications revolution is taking place. Electronic technology can help you find a job in another state or read the Congressional Record online. It can connect a student to the local library or the Library of Congress.

But what if that child's parents or school can't afford a computer? What if you don't have one in your home or don't know how to use one? The information superhighway promises vast riches of information, but it also threatens to widen the gulf between "information rich" and "information poor." Our forefathers and mothers knew it made good sense to invest in libraries as a shared community resource for books. It makes even more sense to support libraries in acquiring the powerful and expensive technology needed to obtain electronic information.

Nothing is more important to the future of democracy than ensuring public access to information. That is why we need our nation's public, school, college and university libraries online. The technological revolution is happening now. And now is the time to support your library and all libraries in their efforts to ensure equity on the information superhighway.
-- Betty J. Turock, President, 1995-96, American Library Association (ALA)

Public libraries have long supported the continuing education of the common man and the essential values of lifelong access to informational resources for education, business pursuits and literary entertainment. In recent years, libraries have increasingly automated access to their "card catalogs" allowing more accurate and versatile entry to their wealth of resources. In many cases, they have or will soon have public dial-in (and/or Internet) access to their card catalogs and other online resources, so one may explore a libraries holdings remotely before one visits. Trends in recent years have been to enhance publicly available collections with both audio and video material for loan, but also to have CD-ROM or other computer accessible information resources available to the visiting public at terminals and computer workstations or even by remote dial-in access. Hard copy serial collections are frequently reduced to pay for electronic versions of journals and magazines, but often a broader range of materials become available as the access becomes more precise and efficient. In the future, government entities will make increasing volumes of public information available but may or may not provide the means of access (i.e.- public kiosks), thus libraries seem the most logical venue to invest in and develop so as to support and expand public access to advanced information resources.

danbirchall@gmail.com (1)

Shag (3737) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930332)

...wire and radio communication service with adequate facilities at reasonable charges.

Okay, FCC folks, I'm waiting for the WiFi mesh...

WHAT? (3, Interesting)

Lord Kano (13027) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930236)

  • As VoIP takes off as a replacement for the traditional copper-wire network, local and state governments are going to lose more and more funding for important services like 911 and Universal Service.


What? It's the 21st century. The Universal Service fee is bullshit. What part of the country is without telephone lines?

The Universal Service fee is a subsidy for the well to do. Developers subdivide former farmland and put nice big houses on them. The phone companies need to build phone lines out to them, putting up poles, stringing cable and what not. The Universal Service Fee is a way for them to recoup that loss.

It isn't about providing phones to poor underpriveledges children in Arkansas.

LK

Isn't It Amazing... (3, Funny)

automag (834164) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930237)

...how huge corporations can extol the virtues of the 'American way,' 'free trade,' 'competition,' and the like only until the moment that they realize that they've become completely obsolete? Then they fight like drowning rats using silly arguments like 'not giving us your money any more will be BAD for you... Pay no attention to the progress behind the curtain.' This sounds durprisingly similar to the arguement that Verizon threw up earlier this week to prevent municipal Wi-Fi. Whatever. I say good riddance to 'em and bring on the progress.

Re:Isn't It Amazing... (2, Informative)

GoofyBoy (44399) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930367)

>how huge corporations can extol the virtues of the 'American way,' 'free trade,' 'competition,' and the like only until the moment that they realize that they've become completely obsolete?

Its corporations (the Baby Bells too) that are providing VoIP. I can't think of one major telecom company with land-based lines that don't have VoIP or plans to provide VoIP.

>Then they fight like drowning rats using silly arguments

Its the goverment that is pushing for taxation of VoIP and a corporation fighting against it.

From the article:
"the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission has drafted regulations to ensure that VoIP services operating within its jurisdiction paid its fair share of the 911 services and universal access costs. Vonage Holding Inc., one of the first to market VoIP services, sued in Federal District Court alleging that VoIP was an "information service" and thus not under State jurisdiction."

Fees. (2, Insightful)

Sai Babu (827212) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930252)

Universal service fee [fcc.gov] .

911 is state of locally funded. The cell phone 911 problem is mainly a result of people not knowing where thay are. Net thing you know, there will be a lobby group to requre funding for 911 cell phones for dogs and cats. Hell, they can't tell us where they are either but there is some remote possibility that you might wreck your car or fall off a mountain and your dog or cat could push the panic button for you.

There needs to be some sort of cost benefit analysis applied to this stuff. IMO, it's WRONG to 'tax' (fee) everyone in order to deal with people who are too stupid to know where they are. As for those situation where you may be able to push the panic button but not talk, there are commercial services available for those who desire this much coddling.

VOIP over 2.5G or 3G phones will not steal monies from this 'tax' structure. The fee is a pass through from your phone company. They will still have to pay it and they will, generally, continue to pass it through. Interestingly, the only phone company owner I know says that there is no real accounting of these fees, even though the companies are required to pass through no more than they charge.

I know that universaL access is charged on my IDSL line so no loss there if I go VOIP. Is it also charged to cable TV companies? If so, then VOIP is a red herring for more 'tax'.

Re:Fees. (1)

Kevinv (21462) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930409)

the brain doesn't function real well when in intense pain. Let's see, my chest has been crushed by a steering wheel, my face smashed and burned by an airbag, and you want me to remember what the last mile marker I saw was? Add in the fact that the brain can block out a few minutes of memory around a severe accident and i don't see how "just remember where you are" is a solution.

the text of the article is: (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10930262)

Putting the Federal in the FCC

Column by Sean Kellogg, Editor-at-Large

Congress may be on a drive to push more and more social programs to the fiscally strapped States, hoping that such programs will die on the vine, but at the FCC the drive to federalize everything under the sun is still as strong as ever. In a recent unanimous decision, the Commission granted itself full jurisdictional authority over the emerging Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephony service that is poised to replace the aging copper network. The decision strips states and local government of important regulatory tools, strikes at a critical tax revenue source, and threatens a similar unregulated storm to the one that eventually caused the AT&T breakup.

Before getting into the details of the decision, lets be frank about the scope of this issue. Today the FCC reports there are 182.8 million traditional telephone lines serving the American population. These lines used to be owned by AT&T until the company was broken up by a government consent decree. Out of the breakup came a handful of regional bells and the AT&T long distance provider. The breakup is a long, complicated story, but suffice to say that because of a lack of industry regulations, a massive interstate monopoly was allowed to form and dominate all telecommunications for decades.

As a technology, VoIP is poised to replace the copper network with packet based voice communication running over the fiber network built during the early phases of the Internet revolution. Like with a cellular call, in this framework there is no distinction between a local and long distance. In fact, VoIP could eventually end the concept of a physical location in telecommunication, allowing for phone numbers to follow you across the globe. If fully embraced by the telecommunications industry and consumers, VoIP has the ability to completely replace the current phone system and any conceptions we have of how our phone operates.

This sounds like an amazing offering to consumers and industry, and it is, but like any technology it has disruptive effects that must be considered. The current copper network is heavily regulated by state and local government. They asses a variety of utility taxes that ensure 911 emergency services, law enforcement surveillance compliance, access for the disabled, universal service, and other government projects. The City of Seattle in 2003 collected $30 million from telephone utility taxes, its fourth largest source of revenue after property, B&O, and sales taxes. These taxes are permitted under the Telecommunications Act (although there have been legal efforts to rule the franchise fee impermissible) so long as the services are "telecommunication services", but would be prohibited if the they were classified as an "information service" (think Internet Service Provider, Instant Messenger, etc). State and local governments are concerned that as telephone service providers switch off the copper networks and onto VoIP, the sizable tax base won't be quite so sizable.

In an effort to stem the tide, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission has drafted regulations to ensure that VoIP services operating within its jurisdiction paid its fair share of the 911 services and universal access costs. Vonage Holding Inc., one of the first to market VoIP services, sued in Federal District Court alleging that VoIP was an "information service" and thus not under State jurisdiction. The District Court agreed, placing a permanent injunction on the regulation, and after refusing to rehear the case, an appeal, currently pending, was filed with the 8th Circuit. A similar suit was filed by Vonage after the State of New York attempted to enforce similar VoIP regulations, and generated similar results.

All of this legal footwork has not gone unnoticed by the Federal Communications Commission. Vonage concurrently started proceedings with the FCC when it filed with the Minnesota District Court. In the FCC proceeding it asked that (1) VoIP be classified as an information service, and (2) that state regulation would unavoidably conflict with the national policy of promoting unregulated competition in the Internet and information service market. Alternatively, it asked the FCC to preempt the Minnesota regulation because it was impossible to distinguish between the interstate and intrastate aspects of their VoIP service.

The FCC opted for the alternative pleading, stating that the VoIP technology is fundamentally an interstate technology. They found that the switched packet environment and physical disconnect allowed by VoIP makes it practically impossible to distinguish where a phone call starts or ends. In doing so they disregarded not only Minnesota's contention that there were technologically feasible ways to separate intrastate from interstate, but the contentions of Professor Lawrence Lessig who argues in his book, Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, that networks and technologies are not fundamentally anything, they are exactly how we design them. Had the FCC wanted to separate the two, it would have been a simple matter of designing the network to make it possible.

Their decision poses a whole host of questions. For example, why did the FCC choose the alternative pleading? The section outlining why it is fundamentally impossible to separate the intrastate from interstate invokes the term "likely" so many times it reads like an undergraduate research paper, unwilling to state anything definitively for fear of missing an apparent contradiction. In fact, the legal foundation for the argument may not even be good law, as only the 4th Circuit has ruled on the question of absolute preemption in the case of inseparable inter and intrastate communication (North Carolina Utils. Comm n v. FCC). The FCC points to a Supreme Court decision citing the case favorably, but fails to mention other efforts by the FCC to make black and white distinctions that have been rejected by the courts.

It is far more plausible that the FCC's failure to definitively answer the question of whether or not VoIP is an "information service" is the result of recent Homeland Security pressures. As discussed previously, if VoIP is considered an "information service" it avoids both state regulation and wiretap compliance laws. But with the government's growing desire to monitor all forms of communication as part of the war against terror, such a determination could have been devastating to the effort. The alternative, ruling VoIP a "telecommunication service" may very well have foiled the FCC's longterm deregulation goals. So long as VoIP remains non-dominating and competitive, the FCC can preempt any regulation under 252 of the Telecommunications Act. A longterm view, however, illustrates that those provisions will be inapplicable once VoIP finally replaces the copper network. Instead of tying its hands politically, the FCC opted for a more subtle approach.

Even subtle approaches have their ramifications though. If the FCC has decided that VoIP providers will not have to pay state taxes that fund 911 service or universal access, who will? Commissioners Copps and Adelstein, the two Democrats on the Commission, each wrote concurring statements worrying that the FCC was too quick to announce a deregulated VoIP environment without addressing the critical questions of how these vital services will be paid for. Copps stated, "there are, in fact, difficult and urgent questions flowing from our jurisdictional conclusion and they are no closer to an answer after we act today than they were before we walked in here." Such concerns, say the remaining commissioners, will be addressed eventually by the IP-Enabled Services Proceedings, who have been meeting since February.

But these proceedings fail to address Copps second concern. "Wouldn't it be tragic," he asked, "if the blunt instrument of preemption was permitted to erode our partnership with the states?" One of the benefits of our model of federalism is that we allow for experimentation at the state level, where bad plans are rejected and the best plans are eventually picked up for federal adoption. The FCC, however, seems to have turned this idea on its head. Stating a wish to avoid "patchwork regulations," the FCC has ended any state experimentation before it has gotten off the ground, deciding that it knows what is best for every jurisdiction and will pronounce its decision... eventually. In the meantime, the telecommunications industry is gearing up to take advantage of this new deregulation bonanza.

In its FCC filing, Vonage claimed 275,000 subscribers, a mere drop in the bucket of the millions of potential subscribers. The numbers, however, are getting ready to skyrocket. New comers to the phone industry like Vonage and Skype are already offering service. Existing regional bells have begun to roll out plans, as have cable broadband providers like Comcast. Even AT&T has begun to move its sprawling phone infrastructure over to VoIP. The rest of the industry is likely to follow closely behind, leaving the regulated copper networks, and local taxation, in the dust.

Mind you, the FCC does not purport to be against states rights. Recently, Chairman Powell and Commissioner Martin, Deputy General Counsel for the 2000 Bush campaign, advocated a plan that would have granted states more authority in deciding the breadth of the unbundling provisions within the Telecommunications Act. Unbundling is one of the banes of the baby bells, requiring that the bells open up their customer base and network to new competitive telephone carriers. Giving authority to the states would presumably result in less stringent interpretation and allow the baby bells to force out what little competition has been generated since the act's passage in 1996. Perhaps it's best to describe the FCC's approach as "monopoly friendly" instead of "state's rights friendly."

The outcome of the FCC's ruling will likely come before the Courts. Just prior to the decision's announcement, two cities in California adopted VoIP regulations. Burbank proposed collecting $1.40 per subscriber per month to VoIP in an effort to retain its $3.7 million in telephone utility taxes, half of which pays for 911 services. Unless the Courts disagree with the FCC's approach, Burbank is going to have to find some other way to make sure fires get reported before they burn out of control and assault victims are promptly connected to emergency responders.

http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/telecom/2 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10930272)

USA TODAY

The utility, which serves 1,500 ranchers, farmers and others in the Texas Panhandle, fared so well last year that it doled out a fat dividend to its customers, who also own it: an average $375 -- more than the average $206 each customer paid in local phone fees.

Meantime, the co-op took in $2.6 million in federal universal service revenue. That's what people across the USA pay, through an 8.9% fee on long-distance bills. It subsidizes service in rural areas, where it's far costlier to run wires.

XIT also got $650,000 in state universal service fees and $2.9 million in access charges. Long-distance carriers pay access charges to connect their calls. Those, too, get passed on to consumers. Universal service and access fees help keep service affordable in rural areas so the entire USA can stay connected.

But critics say the system is laced with waste and inefficiency. They point to some rural phone companies' high overhead, sumptuous earnings, rich dividends and, at least in one case, fraud. Oversight has been lax: Prosecutors say the Gambino crime family was able to fraudulently draw millions from the universal service fund from 1996 to 2003 by controlling a Missouri rural phone firm. And critics say customers around the USA are stuck with the bill.

The howls have grown louder this year. Regulators are paying closer scrutiny, launching a probe and expanding audits. They're also preparing to revise the fee system. Those steps could erode the decades-old pillars of rural phone service.

"The system is broken," says John Stanton, CEO of Western Wireless, which competes with rural providers for some customers. The subsidies, Stanton charges, are "an incentive for abuse."

But rural phone officials insist abuse is rare. Jimmy White, who manages XIT, says the co-op's earnings fall within state limits. Rural providers say the universal service fund is strained because of Western Wireless and other rivals, which get some of the fund's revenue to aid rural cell phone service. Rural providers say the cell phone carriers don't need subsidies.

Complaints about rural subsidies aren't new. Lawmakers have long shielded the payments as a way to cap rural phone rates.

Rural carriers "have a whole lot of support in Washington," says Legg Mason analyst Chris King. "No one wants to upset the apple cart."

"We're desperately concerned," says Ken Pfister, vice president of Great Plains Communications, which serves 33,000 customers in Nebraska. Scrapping access fees alone would trigger a $20 monthly phone-bill increase, Pfister says.

About 10% of the USA's phone lines are in rural areas, from the northern plains to the Southwest.

Many are run by small family-owned phone companies and co-ops that sprang up early in the 20th century in out-of-the-way areas shunned by big carriers.

Rural residents are expensive to serve. It can cost thousands to run a cable 20 miles to an isolated farmer. To compensate, AT&T in the 1950s began paying access fees to rural providers to connect long-distance calls of rural customers.

After AT&T's breakup in the 1980s spawned long-distance competition, long-distance prices plunged. So did access fees.

To sustain rural providers, the government created the universal service fund. (The fund also subsidizes rural health care, low-income phone users and telecommunication services in schools and libraries.)

Some academics and industry officials have long questioned the notion that people across the USA must subsidize rural phone service.

"Why should some poor single mother in Boston pay extra money to make sure someone in a rural area is doing fine?" says Brad Wimmer, a former Federal Communications Commission official who teaches economics at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. City dwellers, Wimmer notes, pay more for parking than rural residents.

But rural officials call the analogy flawed. City dwellers, they say, benefit by being able to call friends and relatives in rural areas.

"We don't think it's right public policy to say, 'If they can't afford it, too bad,' " says Dan Mitchell, senior regulatory counsel for the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association (NTCA).

The subsidies and a scarcity of competition in their areas have helped rural companies fare well in a mostly bleak telecom industry.

They're losing lines -- but at only half the rate of the Bells. Ninety-two percent of them offer broadband. About a third run wires outside their home turf to compete with neighboring carriers -- something the Bells have never done.

"These aren't rinky-dink facilities," says Washington lawyer Andrew Lipman, who represents rural providers. "Many are more up-to-date than the Bells, and they're more focused and more local."

Guaranteed profit

But rural providers note their access fees and universal service revenue are falling as more consumers shift their long-distance calls to wireless and Internet-based services. Those services pay low or no access and universal service fees.

Complicating the issue are complaints that at least some rural companies milk the system. One big problem, some say: The government guarantees the rural companies an 11.25% return on their network investments. They can recoup all their operating and capital costs, plus net a profit of 11.25%.
OVERHAULING SUBSIDIES
The federal subsidies that sustain rural phone companies are likely to be overhauled by regulators as early as next year. That worries the providers that depend on the subsidies for at least half of their revenue.

One big subsidy: the $4 billion in fees that long-distance companies pay rural phone companies to connect long-distance calls to rural customers.

These "access fees" are complex. Long-distance carriers pay an average per-minute charge of a half-cent to connect an interstate call to a regional Bell, 2 cents to send the same call to a rural company and 5 cents to connect an in-state call to a rural provider.

Those disparities lead long-distance companies to reroute calls to get the lowest rate or shift calls to Internet-based phone services.

Some big phone companies have proposed that the Federal Communications Commission phase out the access fees by 2009. To offset that loss, a local-phone surcharge of up to $6.50 a month, paid by all customers around the USA, would rise to as much as $10. In rural areas, the surcharge would rise to $9.

But rural areas would still see a shortfall. It would be offset by boosting the $3.3 billion in universal service fees that fund rural phone service. Instead of the current 8.9% fee on long-distance bills, which are falling, a flat fee could be assessed on each connection whether cable broadband, Internet-based or wireless. That could raise $2.5 billion more in universal service revenue.

But rural companies resist local rate increases. They also worry that some lawmakers would oppose anything that looks like a tax on broadband services. Alternative rural plans would create uniform access fees across the country, without raising most rural phone rates.

Western Wireless and long-distance carriers such as AT&T say this system gives rural firms no reason to be efficient. "If you are guaranteed to receive your costs regardless of what you spend, then you are not (motivated) to reduce your costs," says Stanton, at Western Wireless.

Another gripe: that rural companies overestimate their costs or underestimate customer demand. That causes the FCC to set access rates too high the next year. Long-distance companies recently told the FCC that rural companies have padded their pockets in each of the past nine years. The FCC is investigating the claims.

XIT is among at least four Texas phone cooperatives since 1999 that have paid their customers dividends that equaled or exceeded their phone charges, according to Texas state records. Each co-op also gets at least $1 million in federal universal service fees.

"They're doing it with money you and I supplied," says Austin lawyer Larry Smith, who represents rivals to the rural companies.

But White says without universal service revenue, "it wouldn't be long before we went out of business."

Another criticism: that some rural companies spend freely with little oversight. New York prosecutors, for example, say the Gambino crime family used Cass County Telephone in Peculiar, Mo., to launder proceeds from a scheme to slap customers across the country with unauthorized charges. CassTel drew millions in universal subscriber funds to pay exorbitant fees for the "computer consulting" services of a firm that facilitated the scheme, according to prosecutors. A trial is set for next year.

High overhead, low oversight

In a study commissioned by Western Wireless, telecom consulting firm Economics and Technology says rural carriers' "inefficiencies are substantial." Examples it cites:

Big Bend Telephone of Alpine, Texas, which serves 6,000 customers, last year had $3.6 million in corporate overhead costs -- such as accounting and human resources -- or 25% of its operating expenses.

Some similar-sized companies had much lower corporate expenses, Economics and Technology says. Example: Vernon Telephone Cooperative of Westby, Wis., with 7,500 lines, had just $747,000 in such corporate costs.

Meanwhile, Big Bend last year got $9.6 million in federal universal service funds, $3.3 million in state universal service funds and $18 million in access fees. (Less than 5% of revenue was from local charges.)

Big Bend President Justin Haynes calls the figures misleading. He says his managers do line work and are included in corporate overhead:

"I've got managers out there in the ditch doing physical work. We have 6,000 customers spread over 18,000 miles of mountains and rocks. Providing telephone service here is very costly."

Still, the utility posted a 12.8% return last year. And it paid shareholders a $3 million dividend. In 2002, it shelled out a $13 million dividend. It also runs a "hunting ranch" to entertain rural phone lobbyists at a cost of $80,000 a year. Haynes would not comment on the dividends.

Doylestown Telephone, which serves 4,100 customers in Doylestown, Ohio, has about $4.3 million in cash and has invested $7.5 million in an affiliate that provides Internet, cable and other services. The affiliate also offers rival phone, Web and video services in neighboring towns served mainly by Sprint's local phone unit. Sprint has been slow to roll out advanced services in those areas.

Doylestown earned a 20% return last year and got $400,000 in federal universal service money and $2.6 million in access fees. Customers pay $12.80 in local rates. It's "cash-rich," says analyst Scott Lundquist of Economics and Technology. "Why is it getting $400,000 a year in federal subsidies?"

Doylestown President Tom Brockman says the company plays by the rules. It doesn't pay big dividends and "likes to have a nest egg available for projects."

Union Telephone, which serves 8,000 lines in Mountain View, Wyo., saw its employee base rise 24% this year, its marketing costs soar 80% and its building expenses jump 64%. Vice President John Woody says marketing and building costs rose as its cell phone business grew. But state regulators say cell phone costs are supposed to be funded apart from regulated phone expenses.

Rural phone officials say the huge majority of the companies are efficient. Corporate overhead can depend on the "remoteness" of an area, economist Dale Lehman says in a report for NTCA.

"If (critics) believe there's a lot of waste in the system, they can challenge the carriers" before state regulators, Mitchell says.

But state regulators have few resources to scrutinize the finances of dozens of rural companies, says Brad Ramsey, general counsel of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners.

Tom Bennett, the FCC's assistant inspector general, concedes his agency lacks the staff to audit rural-fund recipients. The Universal Service Administrative Company, which disburses the money for the FCC, has done just seven audits since 1998, says spokesman Mel Blackwell. But next year, the USAC plans to do 15 and is allocating money for outside auditors to do 250.

"Are we concerned about abuse? Absolutely," Bennett says. "And we're trying to ... address it."

Regulators are considering a plan to modify universal service funding so rural companies would not be reimbursed for their actual network and operating costs. Instead, they'd be paid based on the hypothetically most efficient way to serve a customer.

Some doubt that a plan to sharply restrict rural funding could be enacted. "There's a very strong rural lobby in America, and to bet against them historically has been a pretty bad bet," says analyst Tavis McCourt of Morgan Keegan.

What are the real costs? (1)

ortholattice (175065) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930279)

As I understand it, the key concern is that an interface to the 911 service costs money, and someone has to pay for it. (And for "universal access"; someone please clue me in as to what that is and why it costs so much.) But...
The City of Seattle in 2003 collected $30 million from telephone utility taxes, its fourth largest source of revenue after property, B&O, and sales taxes.
For a VoIP connection to 911, aren't we talking the cost of a DSL line and some specialized software? It seems to me these are minor costs that would add very little to the basic police/fire system without the 911 service.

I'm sure this $30 million (in the case of Seattle alone) is almost certainly used mostly for other purposes, and now it's just another buried tax in our lives that the bureaucracy is terrified of losing. But I'd just like to get past the b.s. to the bottom line, and find out what's really involved in the basic, minimal system needed to provide this service. It kind of irritates me when a tax is claimed to be for one purpose and ends up getting used for another.

Re:What are the real costs? (1)

GoofyBoy (44399) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930395)

You have to staff 911 with goverment employees and purchase and maintain some high tech stuff (communications to emergency services, voice recording, some specialized telecom stuff to trace calls) and overhead (legal advice, operations and procedures, auditing).

why should phone service pay for it anyway? (4, Insightful)

jeif1k (809151) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930329)

911 service, access for the disabled, etc. are all things that are important to society as a whole. For example, the indirect benefit I derive from having the disabled be able to access the phone system are unrelated to whether I own a telephone myself. So, they should be paid for by society as a whole--through regular taxes.

The likely reason these are surcharges on your telephone bill is because Congress was trying to hide taxes in "user fees" again, knowing full well that most people would end up paying for these anyway, not only as part of their own phone bill (which they could perhaps avoid) but also in higher prices for goods and services.

If these are federally mandated services, then the federal government should pay for it out of federal taxes. If they have to be raised in order to do that, that's OK: you were paying the taxes anyway already, and at least making it part of the regular tax system means that (1) you see who is responsible for the expense (the federal government), (2) a separate bureaucracy for administering those taxes can get eliminated, and (3) phone companies have a harder time hiding phoney "federal" charges among real ones on their bills when such charges don't exist anymore.

How many millions of people in the USA use VOIP? (0)

mrshowtime (562809) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930381)

I am too lazy to look up statistics, but when I worked at Office depot, one of the most sold items were PHONES, believe it or not. When the VOIP craze started, nobody gave a shit, and still don't. If you live in the Philippines, or Mexico, VOIP is great! If you live in western civilization you more than likely already have a cell phone and home phone and a dsl/cable line. Regardless if the whole f'ing industry goes wireless, someone still has to own the towers, or phone lines, or fiber optic lines, and you will end up paying a tax or "fee" in the end to use those services. I have seen some of my friends drop their home phone lines for just DSL and cell phone service, but they still don't use VOIP. Besides, in regards to 911 calls, WTF happens if your computer is off and you need to make a call because your house is on fire, or their is a bugular in the house? Wait for it to boot up and THEN have to deal with the retarded 911 operator via a shitty VOIP connection, with no real way to trace your call?

Re:How many millions of people in the USA use VOIP (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10930457)

Besides, in regards to 911 calls, WTF happens if your computer is off and you need to make a call because your house is on fire, or their is a bugular in the house? Wait for it to boot up and THEN have to deal with the retarded 911 operator via a shitty VOIP connection, with no real way to trace your call?

VOIP does not use your computer to place or recieve calls. You do not need to own a computer at all. All you need is a broadband internet connection. The VOIP company gives you a Voice Modem that you connect to your internet connection. You then plug your phone into that and your VOIP is fully installed.

My experience with VOIP is that the phone quality is as good or better than traditional landlines. If you have enough bandwidth you will not be able to tell the difference. If your internet connection is down then why not dial 911 with your cell phone? People have been doing it for the last decade and cell phone call quality is more than 10 times worse than VOIP.

Re:How many millions of people in the USA use VOIP (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10930477)

WTF happens if your computer is off and you need to make a call because your house is on fire, or their is a bugular in the house? Wait for it to boot up and THEN have to deal with the retarded 911 operator via a shitty VOIP connection, with no real way to trace your call?

WTF happens if your brain is off and you need to make a /. posting because your thoughts are fleeting like water in a sieve?

How about you learn about VOIP solutions instead of firing off about your "office depot" experience that makes you an expert?

Thanks,
AC

What is progressive anyway? (1)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930439)

It seems to me that a real progressive would favor a progressive tax structure where the wealthy pay a larger percentage of their income than the less wealthy.

Telephone taxes are just another form of regressive taxes along with sales tax, gas tax, etc. that are not progressive at all. Lousy tax policy IMHO.

How important is that??? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10930456)

As VoIP takes off as a replacement for the traditional copper-wire network, local and state governments are going to lose more and more funding for important services like 911 and Universal Service

I know it's a completely different budget, but in times of a 150 billion dollar iraq war this really sounds like ridiculous peanuts.

emergency vs bittorrent (0, Troll)

Carlbunn (817714) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930462)

Ple-kshshshshhshs-- raped--- in my ---- 2 huge --ys OH F--K MY BRO--ER DL--DING PR0N FR-EA--NG BITT--------.....

cell service is allready paying for 911 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10930538)

I finally deciphered my wireless bill. $2 was
for the 1minute I actually used and the other
$87 worth of "fees for regulatory compliance"
was paying for 911. And cell phone use, until
the voip is crambed into my phone, is only
increasing, voip or no voip.

Universal Service deserves to die (2)

HangingChad (677530) | more than 9 years ago | (#10930619)

Every little podunk phone company on the planet is raking in big bucks from universal service fees, whether they need them or not. And we're all footing that bill. It's a pork barrel rife with corruption. Even the mob was getting into it, running a little phone company in MS and raking in the fees. Some are making so much money they're giving back more money to their customers every year than they pay on their phone bill. It's that bad.

Between satellite internet and cell phones you don't need a wire running out to your house anymore.

We're in the process of building a house that will produce its own electricity and won't have a phone line or any other type of wire connection. If we didn't want to rely on satellite and cell phones there are still more options beyond those. I'll probably get an Amateur Radio license anyway. When everything else goes to crap it's one of the few comm channel that manages to stay working.

Dump the Universal Service and use the money for something productive. Cut the cord and move on.

What Would You Do With a Billion Per Month? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10930641)

There's ~370 million people in US. Let's assume there are only 100 million phone lines. You pay almost 10$/month in bullshit taxes and fees for every phone line. That's like a billion per month.

This is allegedly for things like 'universal access'. WTF? For 12 billion per year for the past decade, we should all have fiber to the door with GB internet access.

Instead, we have a bunch of fat, rich telecom execs and public service government parasites doing something, 'something'? with all that money.

So if anyone is looking for a tear over any 'lost' tax revenue, you won't find any from me. May all of the money sucking government parasites dry up and die, so we all have a little more blood to live on.

Since when is it 'geeky' to want more than an army (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10930649)

"but there may be some undesirable results for those progressive geeks who believe government should do more than provide military defense. "

Guess what - not just 'geeks' but anyone with a brain - not a progressive or regressive one, mind you, but simply a brain who actually USES it - knows that government should provide all types of essential services to its people, IN A LIMITED FASHION.

That is, LIMITED help to those who are suffering financially so that they get on thier feet. LIMITED work support until you get your own job .. LIMITED government is the way to go, not simply a government that has full control over a military.

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