EDITORIAL: Preserving phone access
Mar 16, 2013 (The Fresno Bee - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Most people in the United States take access to phone service for granted -- for making calls in an emergency, keeping in touch with family, conducting business and generally connecting with the world.
This didn't just happen by itself. Congress passed and President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Communications Act of 1934, which promised "to make available, so far as possible, to all the people of the United States, a rapid, efficient, nationwide, and worldwide wire and radio communication service with adequate facilities at reasonable charges."
The commitment to universal service is under attack from House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Republicans, who want to end certain phone discounts that help lower-income Americans with monthly phone service. The nation's "Lifeline Assistance Program" was launched during the presidency of Ronald Reagan. It costs the government nothing and is worth preserving.
Lifeline has had bipartisan support over the years. The Telecommunications Act of 1996, signed by President Bill Clinton, reaffirmed the commitment to universal service. And, as technology evolved, so did Lifeline. During the presidency of George W. Bush, the program expanded so that low-income households could choose wireless service.
That, oddly, now is under fire. Boehner has railed against "giving folks free cellphones," a blatant misstatement of how the discount policy actually works.
Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Ark., has a bill (H.R. 176), co-sponsored by Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, that would ban cellphone service from Lifeline. People would have to stick with landline service, even as the world is going wireless.
To be clear: Low-income Americans do not get a "free government cellphone," or as Rush Limbaugh phrases it, an "ObamaPhone," through the program. They get small discounts, say 250 free minutes every month or a discounted monthly plan.
Lifeline works. In 1984, 80% of low-income households had telephone service, compared with 95% of non-low-income households. With Lifeline, that 15% gap had narrowed to 4% in 2011.
The misbegotten House Republican attack on a program that has no impact on the federal budget is puzzling, to say the least. The idea of universal service -- phone service in every home from sea to shining sea -- is as worthy a goal in 2013 as it was in 1934.
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Calif.) at www.fresnobee.com Distributed by MCT Information Services
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