Free Markets, Free People

FCC


FCC tries to fly an internet tax under the radar

Here we go again.  Unaccountable bureaucracy has decided it needs to tax you some more:

The Federal Communications Commission is eyeing a proposal to tax broadband Internet service.

The move would funnel money to the Connect America Fund, a subsidy the agency created last year to expand Internet access.

The FCC issued a request for comments on the proposal in April. Dozens of companies and trade associations have weighed in, but the issue has largely flown under the public’s radar.

Well, for the usual reasons, of course:

"Today we propose three goals for contribution reform: efficiency, fairness, and sustainability," Genachowski said. "And we underscore that any reforms to the contribution system must safeguard core Commission objectives, including the promotion of broadband innovation, investment, and adoption."

That’s right friends, they have first claim to your earnings out of "fairness".  Because, you know, not everyone has internet and well, it’s a "right" now, or something.

If you’ve ever looked at your phone bill, you know that you’re already paying a fee (tax) called the Universal Service Fund .  But that fund just isn’t making it:

Consumers already pay a fee on their landline and cellular phone bills to support the FCC’s Universal Service Fund. The fund was created to ensure that everyone in the country has access to telephone service, even if they live in remote areas.

So last year the FCC established the Connect America Fund to funnel subsidy money (taxes) into construction of an internet infrastructure, because, you know, private companies, the one’s who’ve made the internet what it is today, simply can’t be left to do that.

And:

And in recent years, with more people sending emails instead of making long-distance phone calls, the money flowing into the program has begun to dry up. The Universal Service fee has had to grow to a larger and larger portion of phone bills to compensate.

As more and more homes go fully wireless that fund (taxes) they had is drying up.

Time to update the fee (tax) and fund.  How?  It’s only "fair" of course.

The FCC could run into legal problems with the Internet Tax Freedom Act, a 1998 law that bans the government from taxing Internet access. But the FCC has long argued that Universal Service is a fee that the providers choose to pass on to consumers and not a tax.

Ah, providers chose to pass that along to consumers so it’s not a tax.  Right.  I see how that works.

Numerous companies, including AT&T, Sprint and even Google have expressed support for the idea.

Gee, there's a surprise (*cough* cronyism *cough*).

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

Facebook: QandO


A Federal program that provides free cell phones is being abused? Go figure …

I know, I know … it’s just so unusual, right?

What if you could get a free phone with a calling plan whose cost was paid by the federal government? What if you could have eight free cell phones? You can, and people do, Rep. Tim Griffin told The Daily Caller. The annual bill runs over $1 billion, and he’s trying to stop it.

The federal government started the Lifeline program to provide phones to low-income Americans. It originally provided only landlines, but cell phones were added several years ago.

“That’s when the program absolutely exploded and has become a nightmare,” Griffin said in a phone interview with TheDC. Calling it “Uncle Sam’s unlimited plan,” the Arkansas Republican has proposed a bill that would scale back the program to its original form: landlines only.

“People are not only getting [one free cell phone], they’re getting multiples. There are reports of people getting 10, 20, 30 — just routinely getting more than one, selling them, storing them up, whatever,” Griffin said.

The phones come with 100 minutes or more of free air time.  And they’re not just basic models either, they’re smart phones, like that one you paid a couple of hundred dollars for along with the contract you are obligated to pay each month.

Silly you.  Playing by the rules and trying to make it on your own.  Ever wonder what that line on your bill that says “universal service fund” was all about?  Well, this is what its about.  Your government giving away cell phones with no apparent accountability and you paying for them.

And the companies filling the requests for these phones?  Much like what happened in the housing market, they’ve been given incentives by government to fill as many requests as they can.

This is an outgrowth of a program that was initiated to ensure that low-income people had a land line and access to emergency services.  Then came cell phones and somehow the yahoos in DC thought it was only “fair” (one supposes) to give those who qualify as low-income individuals access to them too (why, I’m not sure, if the intent was to have a point of access to emergency services, a land line serves that purpose).

The inevitable result is good old waste, fraud and abuse to the tune of a billion dollars a year – something for which government is justly famous.

Oh, and here’s my favorite part:

The Federal Communications Commission, the government agency that is in charge of Lifeline, has also called for an overhaul of the program to deal with fraud and abuse. The FCC’s proposed changes call for a database to keep track of who already has phones, to prevent any one person from gaming the system. The proposed overhaul would also institute “a one-per-household rule applicable to all providers in the program.”

Seriously?  Now they think they need a “database” of users?  Now?

Have they any idea of who has the phones now? 

And, most importantly, why wasn’t this done in the beginning?  You know, we do live in the computer/information age.  How hard would that have been?

Just another in a long line of well thought out, well run and efficient government programs.

Yeah, let’s campaign for even more, shall we?

Forward.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


Food police want to regulate foods "for the children"

At RightOnLine, Ann Macelhinny (author of “Not Evil Just Wrong) said that while many believe that the right wants to control what happens “in the bedroom”, it is the left which wants to control everything that goes on in every other room in the house to include the kitchen and garage (what car you should drive and what fuel it should use).

An example of her point comes to us today via this proposed “voluntary” regulation by the Federal Trade Commission, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“The Interagency working group recommends that the food industry, through voluntary self-regulatory efforts, make significant improvements in the nutritional quality of foods marketed to children and adolescents ages 2 to 17 years,” the proposal says.

“By the year 2016, all food products within the categories most heavily marketed directly to children should meet two basic nutrition principles.  Such foods should be formulated to … make a meaningful contribution to a healthful diet and minimize the content of nutrients that could have a negative impact on health and weight.”

The foods most heavily marketed directly to children and adolescents fall into 10 categories: “breakfast cereals, snack foods, candy, dairy products, baked goods, carbonated beverages, fruit juice and non-carbonated beverages, prepared foods and meals, frozen and chilled desserts, and restaurant foods.”

Again, this proposed regulation calls for voluntary compliance, but apparently there’s also a proposed penalty for those foods which aren’t reformulated:

If the food is not reformulated, no more ads or promotions on TV, radio, in print, on websites, as well as other digital advertising such as e-mail and text messaging, packaging, and point-of-purchase displays and other in-store marketing tools; product placement in movies, videos, video games, contests, sweepstakes, character licensing and toy branding; sponsorship of events including sport teams and individual athletes; and, philanthropic activity tied to branding opportunities.

That includes softball teams that are sponsored by food companies and school reading programs sponsored by restaurants.

That’s why the FCC is involved (in case you were wondering).  Additionally, as most of us know:

“When regulators strongly suggest a course of action, it’s treated as a rule, not a suggestion,” said Scott Faber, vice president of federal affairs for the Grocery Manufacturers Association.  “Industry tends to heed these suggestions from our regulators, and this administration has made it clear they are willing to regulate if we don’t implement their proposal.”

That’s just reality.  Of course, the underlying premise is that parents are inept and children rule the household and make all the buying decisions as well as eating what they want when they want too.  Thus government must step in.

Oh – and of course, any reformulation will cost money which will, of course, be passed on to the consumer, if the consumer buys the product at all (vs. going to a substitute or alternative).

Between the EPA, the Department of Interior, and now this bunch, the war on US businesses continues apace.

Choice – the lost concept of freedom.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


Is access to the internet a “civil right”?

Well, of course anything can be declared a “civil right”.  All it takes is using the force of government via law or bureaucratic fiat (FCC imposes new rules on internet) to make something into that.  But any basic understanding of the word “right” does not include something which depends on the labor, money, services or assets of a 2nd party for its fulfillment.  Health care is not a “right”, civil or otherwise, because in order to fulfill it, one must coerce a 2nd party provider to give the services necessary whether they want to or not.

So is the internet a “civil right”?  Depends on who you ask – for the entitlement crowd, the answer is “yes”:

"Broadband is becoming a basic necessity," civil-rights activist Benjamin Hooks added. And earlier this month, fellow FCC panelist Mignon Clyburn, daughter of Congressional Black Caucus leader and No. 3 House Democrat James Clyburn of South Carolina, declared that free (read: taxpayer-subsidized) access to the Internet is not only a civil right for every "nappy-headed child" in America, but is essential to their self-esteem. Every minority child, she said, "deserves to be not only connected, but to be proud of who he or she is."

Heck, the same argument could be made for any number of things – a cell phone, for instance.  Any number of people I’m sure would argue that a cell phone and unlimited access to a cellular phone network has become a “basic necessity”.   Of course we’re sliding down that slippery slope at an amazing rate of speed.

And if internet access is a “basic need”, a “civil right”, what about the tools necessary to access it?  An account with an internet provider and a computer?  Software?  Michelle Malkin remarks:

Face it: A high-speed connection is no more an essential civil right than 3G cell phone service or a Netflix account. Increasing competition and restoring academic excellence in abysmal public schools is far more of an imperative to minority children than handing them iPads. Once again, Democrats are using children as human shields to provide useful cover for not so noble political goals.

And, of course that “not so noble political goal” is more government control which, of course, translates into more power accrued and more control of every aspect of your life.  Malkin again:

For progressives who cloak their ambitions in the mantle of "fairness," it’s all about control. It’s always about control.

Precisely – and they’ll use any trick in the book to enlarge it.  And cloaking it in the guise of a “civil right” simply points out, again, how blatantly transparent  they’ve gotten in their quest.  This isn’t about “rights” – this is about power and intrusion.

~McQ


The politics of net neutrality

Net neutrality is back in the news.  So, are you for it or against it?

Given the debate that surrounds the subject, that’s not as easy a question to answer as you might imagine.  Because in order to answer it you have to understand what “for” and “against” even mean now.

The internet as a phenomenon broke onto the world’s stage some years ago and has been growing and improving exponentially for years.  It has not only improved the flow and availability of information but the lives of countless millions of people around the globe as well. And it has essentially accomplished all of this without any major government intervention.

Of course most knew that anything that powerful and uncontrolled must come to the attention of government at some point.  The question is – to what purpose? Why should government intrude on a network that is providing so much acknowledged good without it? The answer: because it is there. And the paranoid are sure that the corporations that are involved in it are up to no good. Thus we need government’s help to keep those evil corporations in line.

Enter the concept of “net neutrality” and the postulation that unless government steps in to ensure it remains “neutral”, greedy corporations would take advantage of the net to advance their bottom lines to the detriment of small consumers.

That’s not something made up in an effort to overstate the case. It is the argument of those who favor government’s involvement, such as Senator Al Franken. Speaking at a meeting on the subject of net neutrality on August 19th, Franken said, “When government does not act, corporations will.  And unlike government agencies which have a legal responsibility to protect consumers, the only thing corporations care about … is their bottom line.”

While it is certainly true that corporations care about their bottom line, the way corporations increase that bottom line is by making and keeping customers happy.  That critical part of how the “bottom line” is increased is somehow always lost on the “let’s get government involved” crowd who feed off of fear driven and unfounded paranoia to justify intrusion.

The debate and arguments for or against the proposed net neutrality regulation aren’t hard to find.  Google and Verizon have offered their version of net neutrality that has been seen as either corporations writing the rules to help themselves or as the maintenance of the status quo.  Frankly, the status quo seems to be working quite well for most.

Much of the “let’s get government involved” movement is led by “Free Press”, a group which has made a cottage industry of the effort. Their main effort is focused on empowering the FCC to “regulate the internet” – a broad and, frankly, scary charter.  For some reason, Free Press is under the impression the FCC has the power to do so through the 1996 Telecom Act.   But does the FCC have that power?  Most familiar with the act don’t believe so. That includes a number of groups usually associated with progressive causes.

In fact, none other than John Kerry made that point in 1999.

“The overarching policy goal of the 1996 Act is to promote a market-driven, robustly competitive environment for all communications services.  Given that, we wish to make it clear that nothing in the 1996 (Telecommunications) Act or its legislative history suggests that Congress intended to alter the current classification of Internet and other information services or to expand traditional telephone regulation to new and advanced services.”

Of course that was before net neutrality became the “top technology priority” of the Obama administration.  That prompted something for which Mr. Kerry is quite famous – a flip-flop.

“A win for the [telecommunication and cable companies] would mean that the FCC couldn’t protect Net Neutrality, so the telecoms could throttle traffic as they wish — it would be at their discretion,” Kerry wrote in an April op-ed for the Huffington Post.

“The FCC couldn’t help disabled people access the Internet, give public officials priority access to the network in times of emergency, or implement a national broadband plan….In short, it would take away a key check on the power of phone and cable corporations to do whatever they want with our Internet.”

Naturally, what this does is align the ever flexible Mr. Kerry with the White House technology priority, not the law or its intent, which, strangely, he got right in 1999.  In fact, the goal of the 1996 Act was to “diminish regulatory burdens as competition grew”.  Free Press and other progressive organizations want to add more to that burden, not lessen it all while claiming that doing so will “spur innovation” and “new technologies”.  The history of regulation doesn’t support that formula at all.

The answer to the question originally posed?

If it is Free Press’s version of net neutrality, then I am most definitely “against”.

~McQ


Get ready for increased taxes

I’ve noted any number of times that government taxes comprise 14% of the national income and government spending is at 25% of the national income.  That’s as high as its been since WWII I believe.

The point, of course is there are three obvious choices here – cut spending to the income level (and beyond, really, if you plan on paying off debt) or increase taxes to the spending level (and beyond, again, if you plan on paying off the debt) or a combination of both.

Watching this current administration, it appears option two is in the works.  Lots of lip service about “unsustainable” spending, etc., but the only movement I’ve seen is legislation that increases that.  And, also, plans to increase taxes.

The health care bill is chock full of new taxes.  If you don’t believe it, review these two listings of the new taxes to be found in there.

Cap-and-trade, and now “Son of Cap-and-Trade” being sponsored by Senators Lindsey Graham and John Kerry significantly raises taxes on utilities (which means everything will cost more for consumers).

Even the FCC is getting in the act, proposing to helpfully tax the internet – something all governments, state and local, have wanted to do for some time.  Presently 18 states have laws taxing sales on the ‘net.  The feds want to make it 50 (or 57 in Obama’s America) plus a little for Uncle Sugar.  The purported reason for such a tax is to “expand internet access”.  As Kelly Cobb wonders, how in the world do raising taxes and thus the cost of access help expand access.  In answer I offer the one word coda of this administration: redistribution.

The point of this post is to raise awareness that we are too the place where it is critical that the two numbers I’ve cited at the beginning of the post begin to move toward each other, not further away.  It appears to me that the decision has been made by this administration to move the smaller number toward the larger number via taxation.  In other words, your priorities for your income will be secondary to their desire to cover for their inept and inefficient profligacy.  And the profligacy has been committed by both parties.

It is far past time for these people who’ve committed us to this disastrous path to have their priorities reordered.  It is high time that their first priority become cuts in spending to bring that in line with their income.  Until and unless they begin that onerous and necessary job, nothing will change.  The “crisis” they’ve created will remain.  I don’t care who did it, what was “inherited” or why we’re in this shape.  That’s history.  Now is the time to do something about it before it’s too freakin’ late.  And taxing everything that moves isn’t the solution I’m talking about.

This is one of the major reasons the Tea Parties exist, for heaven sake – and any politician who isn’t yet figuring this out deserves to join the unemployment line in November.  Hopefully the anger that is driving the protests won’t abate before November (or after November for that matter) and put people in Congress (and later the White House) who understand and act on the new priority.

Until then, hold on to your wallet, because the taxes are coming and they’re going to be coming hard.

~McQ

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