FCC Wants New Tax for Connect America Fund

Perhaps it comes as no surprise that the U.S. Federal Communications Commission wants to create a new tax on broadband access services to support its Connect America Fund, essentially the replacement for the older Universal Service Fund.

Aside from the change of nomenclature, the emphasis has shifted from guaranteeing voice services in rural and isolated portions of the country to supplying broadband access services to such areas.

“What started as a program with important goals (making sure rural farmers can make phone calls and ensuring the poorest among us can dial 911) turned into an unaccountable corporate slush fund,” says S. Derek Turner, Free Press research director.

Today USF is an $8 billion annual program, nearly quadrupling in size since its inception, with the bulk of those revenues going to landline and wireless phone companies.

Maybe this massive growth would be no concern if USF were a model program with a sterling reputation for efficiency. “But it’s not,” says Turner.

One recent study found that 59 cents of every USF dollar raised for rural networks was spent on administrative expenses and general overhead. A 2010 audit of the rural USF program found that one out of every four dollars sent to participating phone companies was an “overpayment,” with nearly a billion dollars unaccounted for.

So some would argue that higher taxes are unwarranted.
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