Lifeline the New Breadline
Lifeline, the government program for providing landline service to the elderly and needy at reduced rates, has grown wings in recent years.
Lifeline, the government program for providing landline service to the elderly and needy at reduced rates, has grown wings in recent years. According to Senator Tom Coburn's "Wastebook 2012" report, the Lifeline program now costs taxpayers $1.5 billion annually and subsidizes cell phone service for 16.5 million Americans.
Not long ago, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski stated that Internet access is a basic human right, following the United Nations lead along the same argument. Lifeline falls into the same category because he believes that cell phones will "bridge the gap in the digital divide."
Then, Genachowski also stated at the NCTA show held in May that, "Usage-based pricing would help drive efficiency in the networks."
In September, his drive was to tax the Internet by changing the Universal Service Fund (USF) that racks up over $8 billion from taxing phone bills every year into a new program called "Connect America Fund."
Now, for those that think this is just a passing of one program and the birth of another, it's more than that: Essentially, it's in addition to and beyond the original scope of the USF.
The great social campaign that the FCC is pushing is extraordinary because it is simply excessive. During the past couple of years, the FCC (at the behest of AT&T) has called for comments regarding the retiring of the PSTN, and this would mean retiring POTS unless exemptions become grandfathered into this social experiment.
The PSTN isn't going anywhere without a fight, and the battle will be with millions of endpoints that are analog and millions more that the FCC claims to have high speed Internet access. Then, the costs of maintaining copper for T1, T3, DSL and other services will climb.
Incredible amounts of money paid to subsidize schools and libraries in the past, and now funding cell phones, is a misdirection of effort and lacks understanding of both the weaknesses and strengths of the US telecommunications infrastructure. Then, to push taxes onto consumers at an alarming rate is unconscionable. In the past I've warned in Predatory Telecom Taxing that both state and federal legislators would find ways to fill tax gaps for the landline and other tax revenue decline.
My other warning in Excessive Telecom Taxes Kill Growth, Investment, Competitiveness isn't just about bad karma.
Still, I'm willing to accept what most already know: Telecom Cuts & Net Neutrality Won't Escape the Tax Man.
Funding cell phones with Internet access is a national priority? We have one huge program in place that we've paid for over decades. Schools and libraries equipped with computers, Internet access and WiFi (beneficiaries of the E-Rate program) are open to the public. McDonald's offers the largest free WiFi network in the nation. Unused TV spectrum is still a means for effective Internet access. Lifeline landline services are still practical, affordable and unlikely to change with declarations of the PSTN's demise. Visit any local fire station or police station and review their "telecommunications requirements," then address how you are going to remove the PSTN from their existing configurations. Access to the web is viable and readily available for most if not all Americans; but eating steak and lobster on an unrealistic budget isn't.
The national telecommunications and electrical infrastructure remains vulnerable to weather, EMP and acts of terrorism. All the endpoints paid and subsidized won't work with disruptions to an aging grid, infrastructure or legislation and policies that are caught in a time warp that exists between the ears of well-intentioned legislators and policy makers. In a practical sense, the inflated costs of Lifeline just don't ring true and the result is a new breadline.