Doyle plan for libraries criticized
Primary funding would come from fee collected to improve Internet access
By Rick Barrett of the Journal Sentinel
Posted: Apr. 7, 2009
A proposal in Gov. Jim Doyle's 2009-'11 budget calling for use of $12.6 million from the Universal Service Fund for the state's primary contribution to public libraries is stirring criticism from some state lawmakers.
Sen. Michael Ellis (R-Neenah) said he objected to using the fund in that way, which he said was never intended. The fund, supported by a fee on land-line telephone bills, was created under a 1993 law that deregulated the telecommunications industry. It was supposed to ensure that Wisconsin residents have equal access to advanced communications such as the Internet.
That's been an issue in the state, especially in rural areas lacking high-speed Internet access.
The fund's use has been expanded to subsidize Internet access in schools, libraries, and organizations such as the YWCA of Greater Milwaukee. Dozens of organizations, including senior citizen centers and literacy councils, have benefited from the Universal Service Fund.
Using funds from the $32 million pot of money for public libraries dilutes its purpose, according to Ellis, who said the provision amounts to a 40% increase in a fee that was originally meant to improve telecom and Internet access.
"This is a hidden tax amounting to $12.6 million," he said. "How does having a telephone equate to supporting public libraries?
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