Cell phone tax money feeds corporate greed

Doug Hite

What if you paid a tax every month that, instead of going to legitimate government programs, went directly into the pockets of multi-billion dollar businesses? Businesses, keep in mind, whose CEOs make more money while sleeping than you will make in your entire life.

If you own a cell phone, you have been doing just that.

Every month, in every cell phone bill, every customer is making a blind donation directly to cell phone companies, largely unbeknownst to the average customer.

The Universal Service Fund is a tax requiring only a few dollars a month from each cell phone subscriber. In its 10-year life-span, this small fee has become a leviathan, raking in more than $44 billion dollars, according to The Associated Press.

The tax was meant to encourage competition in rural areas, aid schools and libraries in connecting to the Internet and provide telephone service to poor and rural health care facilities, but only about one fourth of its proceeds go to these programs. Instead, the majority of the tax goes to cell phone companies for whatever expansions they need in order to make more profit.

When Congress created the Universal Service Fund in 1996, the larger part of the tax – approximately $4.1 billion last year alone – was meant to spur competition among phone companies, keeping rates low for rural America. This concept has all but failed in recent years, as every major phone company is receiving funds to become more competitive.

So if every company is receiving about the same amount of subsidies, then hasn’t this governmental assistance meant to aid disadvantaged phone companies become more of a handout to all phone companies?

Nearly every cell phone company provides flat national rates. This means that a cell phone user in the middle of New York City will pay no more or less for the same plan than someone living on a molehill in Mississippi. Companies can do this because it costs relatively the same amount to provide cell phone coverage to rural locations, as opposed to those that are more urban.

The problem with this is the subsidies being paid to cell companies are not proportional to their expenditures, but are instead directly proportional to the number of people they’re serving. So if a company is providing service to customers for less cost and still receiving the same amount of cash from subsidies, they’re making a profit as large as it is ridiculous.

Cell phone companies are serving more people now than ever. Therefore, they’re collecting more subsidies from the Universal Service Fund than ever. These same subsidies have little or no governmental oversight once they are in the hands of the companies they are granted to. At the same time, phone companies have less expenditures. Basically, cell phone companies are spending less while getting more money from users via customers’ monthly blind donation.

Simply put, the Universal Service Fund has become a “screw-you-over-fund” that will likely be around for quite some time, as political action committees sponsored by massive phone companies such as Alltel and AT&T are donating more than ever to members of Congress, all in hopes of securing their unfair share of government subsidies.

The Universal Service Fund is here. It’s not going anywhere, and you’re gonna have to pay for it.

Doug Hite is a junior English major and a columnist for the Summer Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].