Monday, January 15, 2007

Cell phone fees could subsidize high cost wire line broadband

As growing numbers of Californians move from land line based phone service to cell phones, billions are being generated in state mandated fees charged cell phone users to subsidize land line service in high cost locations outside urban areas. The Associated Press reports that the High Cost Fund B surcharge has generated more than $1.2 billion for California's four largest telephone companies - AT&T Inc., Verizon California, SureWest Communications and Frontier Communications. It's one of five funds in California's Universal Service Fund program, which has received a total of $2.8 billion since 2003 to serve more than 7,600 designated high-cost areas, according to the AP. The state's 25 million cellular subscribers contributed 60 percent of the payments to the B Fund, the AP found, which noted those revenues are likely to increase given the growing number of consumers relying exclusively on wireless communication.

The shift to wireless voice service is occurring at the same time demand for wireline-based broadband is growing. The Schwarzenegger administration should direct the state Public Utilities Commission to reform these funds to redirect subsidies to help speed the deployment of high speed Internet access in higher cost areas of the state.

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