Millions of Hispanic consumers in U.S. would pay more federal phone tax

WASHINGTON, DC -- Millions of Latino and Hispanic long-distance phone customers in the United States would be socked with higher federal fees on their phone bills under a widely criticized proposal by Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Kevin Martin on February 9 to force phone users who make few long-distance calls or use pre-paid wireless phones to either start paying or pay more into the Universal Service Fund (USF), according to a warning from the League of United Latin American Citizens

(LULAC), the Latino Issues Forum and Consumer Action. The three groups are members of the Keep USF Fair (KUSFF) Coalition.



Other than older Americans, Latinos and Hispanics account for the largest number of Americans who would end up paying more under the Martin plan for USF. A November 17, 2005 Keep USF Fair report concluded that the Martin plan would result in higher federal phone taxes (or forced phone bill hikes) of as much as $707 million for 43 million low-volume long-distance user households in the United States. Of greatest concern within the group of harmed consumers: the most vulnerable of Americans -- 16 million households of primarily low-income and elderly individuals -- who currently can afford few or no long-distance phone calls, but would have to pay up to $383 million in

higher USF taxes under the Martin scheme.



Three to five million Hispanic and Latino households in the United States could be included among the 43 million Americans paying more in federal phone fees under the Martin plan. As of July 1, 2003, the total US population was estimated at 290.8 million, including 40.5 million Hispanics in the continental United States and another 3.9 million in Puerto Rico.



As such, the number of U.S. Hispanics far outpaced African Americans at 34.7 million and Asian American at 12.2 million. Census Bureau data indicate that Hispanics have the second lowest median income of all racial/ethnic groups.



The Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility and the FCC estimate that Hispanic households collectively spend close to $8 billion dollars on telephone services and individually average $833 a year. Industry reports show that Hispanic are about twice as likely to buy pre-paid wireless phones as are white Americans (14 percent versus 8 percent), according a 2002 survey from the CPR Group.



LULAC has noted: "A drastic shift in USF funding support would hardest hit low-income residential and low-volume long distance users, a disproportionate number of whom are Latino. The proposed change in USF funding support from usage basis to subscriber base would mean that residential customers would pay the same as business customers and low volume callers would pay the same as high volume callers, which is particularly unfair and burdensome to consumers on fixed-incomes who may see their phone bills increase even when they budget to make few or no long distance calls."



Dr. Gabriela Lemus, director of policy and legislation, League of United Latin American Citizens, said: "In addition to unfairly impacting minorities generally who may be low-volume long distance users, consumers on low or fixed incomes, or have multiple phones; a switch to a connection-based methodology for USF would impact a special category of Latinos who rely heavily on pre-paid cell phones as their preferred choice or their only option for wireless service, including: Latino families who have children and teenagers; Latino elderly who may live alone or travel; Latino seasonal workers or students in the U.S.; Latinos who want cell phones for emergency or security purposes; Latinos who are on public assistance or fixed incomes; and Latinos who cannot meet credit or security deposit requirements."



Consumer Action Director of National Priorities Linda Sherry said: "One of the most alarming aspects of the proposal for USF is that no one has yet produced an estimate of the effect of the change on low-income consumers, including seniors on fixed incomes, the poor, Hispanics and other segments of the American population. It does not make sense for the FCC or Congress to change the collection of USF funding without first taking a long, hard look at who would pay for it. We need some hard facts before a change like this is made."



Ana Montes, director of technology and consumer education, Latino Issues Forum, said: "We believe that all users of communications should pay their fair share to the USF. Latino and other predominantly low-volume and low- income phone users should not be disproportionately burdened by USF. This turns the current system on its head in a way that would unfairly disadvantage millions of Latino consumers."



Martin plan would soar by more than 1,000 percent on an annual basis! With low-income and elderly consumers already socked with high gas prices, the prospect of soaring winter heating bills and continued inflation in medical prescriptions, the wide range of diverse groups in the Keep USF Fair Coalition are opposing the Martin 'numbers' based plan. These groups caution against balancing USF finances on the backs of the very consumers who use long-distance the least and are unable to afford phone bills that would rise under 'numbers' simply in order to subsidize high-income/high-volume callers."



The Keep USF Fair Coalition ( http://www.keepusffair.org ) is committed to keeping the Universal Service Fund collection method fair, and opposing proposals to move to a regressive, per-line flat fee. Now counting more than 115,000 members in its ranks, The Keep USF Fair Coalition was formed in April 2004. Current members include Alliance for Public Technology, Alliance For Retired Americans, American Association Of People With Disabilities, American Corn Growers Association, American Council of the Blind, Black Leadership Forum, Consumer Action, Deafness Research Foundation, Gray Panthers, Latino Issues Forum, League Of United Latin American Citizens, Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition, National Association Of The Deaf, National Grange, National Hispanic Council on Aging, National Native American Chamber of Commerce, The Seniors Coalition, Virginia Citizen's Consumer Council and World Institute On

Disability and the NAACP.



PRNewswire

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