Sunday, August 30, 2015

Another Government Handout for Minorities

Rural Americans are a distinct minority in the United States, even if they don't see themselves as one.  Here is another in a long line of government handouts to improve life in rural America:
Rural Ohioans’ telephone and Internet service is about to get a boost, thanks to a $1.5 billion federal program.
CenturyLink, Cincinnati Bell, AT&T, Frontier Communications, FairPoint Communications and Windstream Communications have all accepted Federal Communication Commission funding in the form of annual subsidies to offer broadband service to rural homes and businesses that are currently not being served.
Overall, carriers in Ohio will get $58.5 million in annual support to serve 166,967 homes and businesses.
The funding is needed because nearly 1 in 3 rural Americans lack access to broadband service, compared with only 1 in 100 urban Americans, according to the FCC’s latest Broadband Progress Report.
The broadband service is intended to ensure universal telephone coverage as companies phase out traditional landline service as well as add Internet service to areas where the cost of providing such service would otherwise be prohibitive.
“Access to modern broadband is critical to life in today’s society,” said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, in a statement. “The financial support provided by American ratepayers through the Connect America program is an investment in the future of our rural communities that will pay dividends for all Americans for years to come.”
The funding will subsidize the construction of broadband networks in rural areas over the next six years. Forty percent of the work must be done by the end of 2017; 100 percent by the end of 2020.
The funding will “dramatically alter the broadband landscape in Ohio and throughout the country,” said Lindsay Shanahan, executive director of Connect Ohio, a nonprofit that promotes broadband access in the state.
“This phase of the Connect America Fund is about deploying broadband to locations that do not have it, not the removal of legacy infrastructure (such as existing landline phone service) or a possible transition to Internet protocol-based networks,” she said.
“Recipients of this funding are required to build out broadband and voice networks that meet various criteria beyond the obligation to upgrade or build networks capable of broadband,” Shanahan said.
The biggest amount of funding is going to CenturyLink, which will take $505.7 million annually to expand and support broadband for more than 2.3 million of its rural customers across the United States. In Ohio, CenturyLink will take $16 million annually.
Of course, this program is tied to the "Obama phones" so many rural folks bitched endlessly about around 4 years ago.  The origins of the Universal Service Fund were tied to the effort to extend phone service to high cost, hard-to-serve rural areas:
The Communications Act of 1934 includes in its preamble a reference to universal service. It calls for “rapid, efficient, Nation-wide, and world-wide wire and radio communication service with adequate facilities at reasonable charges” to “all the people of the United States.” Communications Act of 1934 - Title I, Sec. 1 [47 U.S.C. 151] The Communications Act of 1934 first established the concept of making affordable basic telephone service available to everyone everywhere within a nation, state, or other governmental jurisdiction.
The code was amended by the Telecommunications Act in 1996 to include, “without discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex…” To comply, AT&T began increasing the price of long distance service to pay for universal service. The act also established the FCC to oversee all non-governmental broadcasting, interstate communications, as well as international communication which originate or terminate in the United States.
Before the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the Universal Service Fund (USF) operated as a mechanism by which interstate long distance carriers were assessed to subsidize telephone service to low-income households and high-cost areas in order to ensure that all the people in the United States have access to rapid, efficient, nationwide communications service with sufficient facilities at realistic charges....The Universal Service Fund was first codified in the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the first major rewrite of the Communications Act of 1934. The act addresses new challenges and opportunities of the digital information age, with the goal of promoting an economic environment conducive for the growth of new information technology. It also further developed the meaning and implementation of universal service. The act calls for the creation of a joint federal-state board to make recommendations to the FCC on defining federal universal services and set time tables. The act also set out immediate priorities of universal service. These include quality and reasonably priced services, access to advanced telecommunication services, access for rural, low-income and high-cost regions, equitable and nondiscriminatory service, specific and predictable price structure, access of advanced telecommunication services for schools and health care and libraries (Sec. 254(b)(1)-(7)). The act provided ability in the constantly changing telecommunication environment to periodically revisit and adjust universal service, while setting core principles (Sec. 254(c)). The 1996 act also “mandated the creation of the universal service fund (USF) into which all telecommunications providers are required to contribute a percentage of their interstate and international end-user telecommunications revenues”.
The major goals of Universal Service as mandated by the 1996 Act are as follows:

  • Promote the availability of quality services at just, reasonable and affordable rates for all consumers
  • Increase nationwide access to advanced telecommunications services
  • Advance the availability of such services to all consumers, including those in low income, rural, insular, and high cost areas, at rates that are reasonably comparable to those charged in urban areas
  • Increase access to telecommunications and advanced services in schools, libraries and rural health care facilities
  • Provide equitable and non-discriminatory contributions from all providers of telecommunications services to the fund supporting universal service programs

But don't let that history get in the way of a narrative that government programs only benefit minorities with dark skin. Republican politicians have been getting elected in rural areas for more than a generation convincing the social minority residents there, beneficiaries of government programs all, that it's the poor blacks in the inner city who are being handed their hard-earned tax money, and that those politicians are going to change that by cutting taxes and slashing government programs.  It just isn't true, but it plays well to a built-in bias among residents in rural areas.  Fox News coverage of "Obama phones," without any background into how the underlying program benefits rural areas feeds that bias and inflames it more.  I just like to poke holes in that bubble of bullshit and swamp gas. 

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