The Price of Rural Living

by on November 1, 2004

The universal service tax on long-distance calls is expected to increase. The Wall Street Journal reports that the Universal Service Administrative Corp. will ask regulators to increase from 8.9% to 12.5% the percentage of long-distance revenues that phone companies must hand over to the universal service fund. I’m not happy to hear this, and I suppose the USAC is just doing its job, but this increase highlights just how bloated this creature of the 1996 Act is becoming. But I’m truly becoming more and more incensed at the way that politicians are playing the “rural” card in telecom policy.

I’m willing to bet that If I were to take a poll of all the people living in rural areas and asked them this one question, they’d mostly respond in the positive: “Should people pay for the costs of the services they use, no matter where they live?” What I’m getting at is it’s not the people in rural America clamoring for subsidized phone service or fiber-to-the-home or whatever the next great communications technology might be, it’s the politicians. The amount of pork that a politician can bring home to his or her state for crying “rural” is immense – in fact, say the word “rural” right now out loud – it sounds a lot like the sound a pig would make (especially when emphasizing the “rur”).

I feel for people who might have to pay $100 for telephone service. But since when did rural mean poor? That’s the problem with the current system – it assumes that we need to subsidize all of rural America, even affluent golfers in Houston. It subsidizes companies, not individual people on a needs-basis.

The bigger (but politically absent) picture is that just like some things cost a lot in the city, other services will cost more in rural areas. Where you live is a choice. There’s a price to pay for the peace and quiet of rural living – and that is, er, peace and quiet.

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