Low income Americans may have new rights under an old federal program. Welfare recipients and those who meet certain income requirements will be able to get a cell phone and free minutes through a modified federal program. David Williams with Citizens Against Government Waste is outraged. "Right now, it looks like it's being completely government funded."This would be an outrage, if it were true. But it isn't, at least as it is being presented by the talk show hosts. And it would be rather easy for them to discover this fact. The program, which was mandated by Congress in the Telecommunications Act of 1996, is funded by telecommunications companies. From the FCC web site:
All telecommunications service providers and certain other providers of telecommunications must contribute to the federal USF based on a percentage of their interstate and international end-user telecommunications revenues. These companies include wireline phone companies, wireless phone companies, paging service companies, and certain Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) providers.
Of course, these "contributions" are extracted at the point of a gun, and amount to a tax on telecommunications providers. Unless...
Some consumers may notice a “Universal Service” line item on their telephone bills. This line item appears when a company chooses to recover its USF contributions directly from its customers by billing them this charge.Whether a company recovers the "universal service" as a line item or build it into their pricing structure, the fact remains that consumers are paying this fee. And since this "fee" is imposed by the government, for all intents and purposes it is a tax, albeit a hidden tax.
I can only speculate as to the reason conservatives are presenting this in the manner they are. (The extension of the program to cell phones is new, but that is merely a detail.) My suspicion is that they see it as another opportunity to malign Obama, though there is already no shortage of such opportunities. Regardless of their motivation, they are ignoring the real issue. Host Michael Berry asked his listeners:
Is being wireless a want or a need?
Apparently, if cell phones are a "want" they Berry has a problem with this program. But if cell phones are a "need" then it is a different issue. We should provide for "needs" but not for "wants". And this is the heart of the issue.
According to altruism--which conservatives embrace as eagerly as liberals--one man's need is a claim on others. If one man has a need, others are responsible for providing that need. This is true in regard to food, shelter, health care, and cell phones. Refusing to question altruism, conservatives can only whine that cell phones are not a need.
So long as they refuse to question altruism conservatives will remain powerless to stop the growth of government. They can only argue that a particular program goes "too far" or a particular claim is not truly a need. They cannot defend individual liberty on moral grounds, because they have ceded morality to their opponents.
The issue is not whether cell phones are a need or a want. The issue is that such programs violate individual rights by forcing individuals to act contrary to their own rational judgment.
Until conservatives reject altruism they cannot defend individual rights. Until they reject the premise that the individual must live in service to others, they cannot defend the moral right of the individual to pursue his own values and interests. Until they reject altruism, they will remain accessories to the crime.