Phone providers pay into fund

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AUGUSTA (AP) – In Maine, wireless, pager and land line telephone companies providing intrastate services within the state pay into the state’s Universal Service Fund.

The $8.7 million fund provides support for smaller, independent llandlinecarriers to prevent their rates from going up higher than Verizon’s, thus keeping them affordable.

The fund comes from a 1.3 percent surcharge on in-state telecommunication services. Carriers may pass the charge onto their customers.

Relatively small portions of Maine’s Universal Service Fund also help pay for a system to enable deaf people to use phones, and subsidize pay phone services in remote or underserved locations where there’s a demonstrated need.

The Legislature has not siphoned off portions of the fund to pay for non-telecommunications expenses, said Wayne Jortner, senior counsel for the state Public Advocate’s office.

Jortner also said he is not aware of any effort to get rid of the state Universal Service subsidy program, although legislation is proposed from time to time to expand it for other uses.

The fund gained some public attention in 2004 when the Legislature passed a bill to create a process for preserving pay telephones in locations, usually in remote areas or “dead zones” where cell phone signals don’t reach, and where there’s a public health or safety need for them.

The Public Interest Pay Phone bill surfaced as more and more pay phones were being removed amid the advent of wireless phones.

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