(07/23/2007)
$44 BILLION SUPPOSED TO HELP RURAL SERVICE

A telephone tax intended to help bring affordable cell phone service to rural areas has turned into something quite different.

Improvement in cell phone services in rural areas like Calhoun and regional counties has been stagnant, although companies have benefited for nearly a tenfold increase in government-ordered subsidies paid to a few "competitive" providers.

The cellular phone companies are paid by the fund to offer service in rural areas where an existing carrier already receives a subsidy.

It is a bottomless and politically protected well of cash for cell phone companies that do big business in rural America.

The Universal Service Fund has collected $44 billion over its 10-year lifetime from a surcharge on the phone bills of nearly every American, much of which was to have been directed to rural areas.

Hasn't happened.

Mississippi tops the list in payouts. Mississippi's "competitive" cellular carriers received more than $314 million from 2003 through the first four months of 2007.

The Herald has been unable to find out how much "corporate welfare" subsidy has been paid to improve service in West Virginia.


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