The next time you pay your cellphone bill, take a closer look at the section that explains about the government fees and taxes you’re paying. Have you ever noticed one called “Federal Universal Service Fund”? You probably didn’t know what that meant, but it means that you’re buying cellphones for other people.
The predecessor of the Universal Service Fund had its origin years and years ago as a way to pay for home phones for people who couldn’t otherwise afford them. (It was originally high long-distance fees that subsidized free phone lines.) Even after the current system started, the fee was pretty tiny, so nobody much complained about this tiny bit of socialism. It was just another itty bitty tax.
But that tiny little tax has become a monster that’s rife with fraud and abuse — and you’re paying for every bit of it.
Baltimore television station WBFF did a report a few months ago showing that some people are abusing the system in a serious way. A woman interviewed on a Baltimore street shows the TV news crew all the phones she has in her purse — and she told the reporter that she had even more at home. (See the video report below.)
“I have … like … six in my purse now,” the woman says as she pulls various phones out. “Each and every one of these phones works. At home, I know I have about 30 — and all of them are on.”
If you want to see whether you qualify for a free phone, you can check out one of the many sites online that make money by being middle men between eligible poor people and the dollars you send to the federal government. Take a look at FreeGovernmentCellPhones.net, for instance.
Maybe you don’t see anything wrong with it. Maybe you’re happy to pay extra money each month to hand out free phones (and free minutes) to people who can’t afford to buy their own.
Or maybe you still think it’s theft to forcibly take money out of one person’s pocket and give it to another person. It’s not just the fraud and abuse that bother me about this — as bad as those are. It bothers me because it’s theft, pure and simple.