Cell phone companies fight SC bill that would subsidize landline - FOX Carolina 21

Cell phone companies fight SC bill that would subsidize landline service

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PAULINE, SC (FOX Carolina) -

Cell phone service charges could go up if the South Carolina legislature approves a new fee to help subsidize landline services. It's something major cell phone companies are fighting.

Currently, home phones are being taxed to help maintain landlines and provide service to those with hearing and speech impairments. The trouble is that more people are using cell phones and dropping their landlines, so lawmakers are looking for a new way to pay for those programs.

The State Telecom Equity in Funding Act would charge mobile users the same thing that landline users pay.

South Carolina's Association for The Deaf wants the measure to pass since their members rely on the state funded services to communicate.

The group's president, Leonard Earl Wright, lives in Spartanburg County and he is deaf himself. He uses a relay video chat service to sign to fellow-hearing impaired friends, and the service offers live interpreters to sign to him when he needs to speak to people who do speak with voices.

Those hearing and speech impaired people with just a standard landline telephone need to use a tele-typing system, which is funded by the state. Wright said that people use the services on a daily basis; they could not communicate without them.

It was only in 1997 that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) created the Universal Service Fund to make sure everyone in the country had equal telecommunication services.

"Before that, I didn't have this kind of access. The only thing that I could do was to write letters," said Wright, through an interpreter.

Wright wrote that he's able to speak to his family via phone service thanks to the taxes collected from phone services.

Now, major mobile service providers are fighting the new bill, S.277, not wanting their cell phone users to subsidize landline services.

In a statement, Verizon Wireless explained that they along with Sprint, T-mobile, U-S Cellular, and Tracfone oppose the bill.

"Our wireless customers already pay 16% of their monthly fees in taxes and fees. Any tax/fee increase makes it harder for our customers to afford the wireless services they want, which in turn can discourage companies like ours from investing in new technology to keep the innovation engine going."

Wright said the funding for hearing and speech impaired services is starting to dwindle. He said as technology progresses, the cost of replacing equipment gets expensive.

Wright thinks the bill, sponsored by Upstate senator, Thomas Alexander, only updates the current system, where all phone users cover the cost equally.

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