David Cay Johnston on disappearing landline phones • PTA membership continues to drop • Consumers now asking where their food comes from • Are women still wearing fancy hats to church?
The guarantee of having landline telephone service anywhere in the country, for a time a legal right, “is quietly being legislated away in our U.S. state capitals,” reports David Cay Johnston at Reuters.
Florida, North Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin have already repealed the obligation for telecoms to provide universal service. Nobody has been cut off from their landline service, Johnson reports, “but once almost every state has ended universal service I am sure we will see parts of the landline system shut down.”
In other words, rural would be dumped.
The new rules being drafted and passed through state legislatures “would enhance profits by letting them serve only the customers they want. Their focus, and that of smaller phone companies that have the same universal service obligation, is on well-populated areas where people can afford profitable packages that combine telephone, Internet and cable television.”
Johnston is one of the best tax and finance reporters in the business. Here’s how he ends his column:
Without universal landline service, many poor and rural people will lose connectedness to family and work, while businesses serving them will lose sales and their servicing costs will rise.
Taxpayers will take a hit when the sick, disabled and elderly cannot summon help immediately because they lack phone service. Hours of delay after, say, a stroke can turn a modest hospital bill into a huge expense for Medicare, Medicaid or the Veterans Administration. Some people without phones will die unnecessarily.
New technology means telephone services will change, just as internal combustion engines replaced the horse-and-cart with automobiles. We don’t want regulations requiring the equivalent of a buggy whip in every car trunk.
However, we also should not lose sight of the benefits of guaranteed access to affordable basic telephone service. The law should not force people to buy costly services they do not need.
Nor should we forget that customers paid for the landline telephone system, including many billions of dollars in rate increases over the past two decades that helped AT&T and Verizon develop their cellular systems.
If we lose universal service, I doubt we will ever get it back. Let’s get a balanced policy rather than quietly rewriting laws to benefit one industry.
• The Des Moines Register reports that the “conversation has changed” at the supermarket. People want to know more about what they’re buying — where and how it was raised and how it was processed.
“There was a time when people were pretty complacent about their food and just trusted someone else was going to take care of them,” said Kelly Foss, director of the Downtown Farmers Market in Des Moines. “The dialogue has changed a lot. Now people want to know who is growing their food.”
There’s no reason this couldn’t help producers and rural communities.
• PTA membership dropped sharply beginning in the late 1960s, then stabilized. But the falloff in PTA membership has continued recently, dropping from 6 million members to 5 million members in the last ten years.
Yes, more parents are working, but that’s not the reason for the current decline. The story says people don’t want to pay dues to a national institution. They want their own local PTA with no national affiliation.
“There was a time when we really needed the PTA – that was how we got information,” said one parent. “Now we have the Internet … We can get all the information we need at our fingertips.”
Yes, all we need is the Internet…….
• The Washington Post reports that big, fancy hats are becoming a thing of the past at church services:
For generations, church sanctuaries across the nation on Sunday mornings, especially in black churches and especially on Easter, transformed into a collage of hats: straw ones, felt ones, velvet ones, every shape, size and color, with bows, jewels and feathers, reaching for the heavens.
But anyone walking into today’s services expecting to see a nonstop parade of women making fashion statements on their heads will be sorely disappointed. Many daughters and granddaughters of the women who made bold and flashy hats synonymous with the black church have not carried on the tradition.
Does this ring true at your church?
• Polar bears in Alaska are losing their fur and nobody seems to know why.
• Barb Shelly writes about the “pink slime” controversy in the Kansas City Star and sees it as an inevitable result of an economy that demands food that is too cheap:
For sure, we’re a cheap meat economy. And as long as that’s the case, the industry will never really change. The additive slimed as pink slime may disappear, but something else will replace it. Cattle will still be corn fed in close quarters. Workers will continue to do dangerous jobs for low pay. Rural America will continue to give way to factory farms. Food-borne illness will remain a critical problem.
Americans say they want reforms, but they have yet to show they are willing to pay for them in the checkout line.
• Montana Sen. Jon Tester is one of those in Congress who fears that a proposed National Broadband Plan will favor urban areas over rural communities.
The Federal Communications Commission wants to use money in the Universal Service Fund, originally formed to extend phone service to rural areas, to extend broadband connections. Tester and others worry that USF money will be spent more in urban areas rather than in rural America.
“The economy is starting to come out of the recession it was in and rural America will still be left in a difficult position if we don’t have that broadband investment,” Tester said, “What we are saying is making sure when those reforms are done that it doesn’t have negative impacts on our ability to have broadband service and the economic development that goes with it.”
• A whole bunch of laws being passed or considered in state legislatures that would reignite the school/religion debate.
• Now fracking in shale gas fields in rural Poland.
Some countries (France, Germany and Bulgaria) have imposed moratoriums on these gas and oil drilling techniques.
• Farmers in Vermont and upstate New York are still dealing with the damage done by the deluge that followed Tropical Storm Irene seven months ago.