Server Time Out

articles
July 24 1998 3:30 AM

Server Time Out

The biggest thing standing between rural communities and Internet service is a new federal subsidy.

Last month, the Federal Communications Commission dialed in a $1.275 billion subsidy to help schools, libraries, and rural health care providers purchase Internet service. The program, which will help pay for Internet access and internal data wiring at the educational and health facilities, resurrects a two century old debate in the political economy: What services should the federal government subsidize?

Advertisement

Under the rubric of "universal service," the feds already require business and urban phone customers to subsidize rural customers to the tune of $1.7 billion. Some states mandate phone discounts for the poor and make up the difference by boosting other users' bills. In the name of universal service, the federal Rural Electrification Administration spends $33 million subsidizing electric power for upcountry customers. And since its inception, the government has subsidized postal service to rural addresses at the expense of urban customers.

Universal service's original proponents maintain these services are so essential to modern civilization that it would be unconscionable to allow the market to price them beyond the reach of the less affluent. In that spirit, the government currently believes the Internet--which just a few years ago was considered a luxury--is now a necessity.

The merits of universal telephone and postal service aside, there are several strong arguments against an Internet subsidy:

1) You can live and learn quite handsomely without access to the Internet.

2) Many of the poorer rural communities that have applied for the subsidy lack the high speed phone lines that make the Internet worthwhile, keeping them Internet have-nots.

3) Where fast rural lines are available, schools and libraries can scarcely afford textbooks and periodicals, let alone new computers and training for Web surfing.

4) However well-meaning the new subsidy, technology is moving so fast that the old regulatory apparatus--based on permanent scarcity and obstacles of distance--don't apply to the Internet.

If the federal government is serious about making Internet access affordable to schools and libraries, it should disconnect this program.

The Internet "e-rate" subsidies, as they're known, were authorized under the 1996 Telecommunications Act and are funded with new taxes on long-distance telephone companies, the size of each company's contribution depending on its market share. AT&T and MCI have protested the tax and pledged to pass the cost on to consumers: MCI charges 5 percent on all out of state long-distance calls, and AT&T charges a flat rate. The FCC has received 30,000 e-rate applications and expects to start handing out funds this summer.

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Global Marches Demand Action on Climate Change

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Moneybox
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Americans' Inexplicable Aversion to the 1990s
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 21 2014 1:15 PM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 5  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Time Heist."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 21 2014 2:00 PM Colin Farrell Will Star in True Detective’s Second Season
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 21 2014 8:00 AM An Astronaut’s Guided Video Tour of Earth
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.