The PhoneBoy Blog

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Funding the Universal Service Fund

The Universal Service Fund (USF) was something cooked up by the US Government to make telecommunications affordable to everyone. This is a fine goal that I am all for. There are a couple of different problems with the USF today: it primarily funds voice over copper wire, and the funding sources are drying up. As more and more “voice” communication doesn’t occur over copper wires (including VoIP), there’s talk about getting the VoIP providers to start paying into the USF.

I think the USF should be funded by the pipes you have, not by the application. It’s the only rational way to fund it.

Voice is an application. Even when you run it over a conventional PSTN line, its still an application. That same twisted pair “pipe” can run data over it, either with an analog modem, or using something like DSL. Since VoIP providers are merely an application that runs over an IP network, they should not be required to fund the USF.

On the other hand, cable companies offer a pipe. They provide a means to, among other things, communicate with one another in a similar mannter to a pair of copper wires. Since they are providing a pipe, they should be obligated to pay into the USF, just like the telcos are obligated to do. And they will likely pass that cost onto us, the consumers.

The same goes with the mobile phone carriers. They provide a pipe as well. Though it is wireless, it is a pipe none the less. Each telephone number you have in this case is a pipe, since each phone or SIM is tied to a single instance of a pipe. I’m not sure if the mobile phonec carriers already pay into the USF, but they should.

The USF should be funded per paid pipe. Each pair of live copper wires from your phone company is a pipe. Got Cable Internet? That’s a pipe. I’d argue that even normal Cable TV is a pipe. Got a mobile phone? That’s a pipe too. Pay in.

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