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How Your Phone Bill is Helping Kids Graduate High School

January 21, 2014

Have you ever paid attention to the fees and taxes that are added to your phone bill? CNN Money recently highlighted the problem with an article examining the up to 17 percent tax rate that can show up on cell phone bills. For Nebraska, where such taxes are highest, that can increase a $60 bill to $75. In Oregon, the state with the lowest taxes, subscribers only pay an additional $5 per month on average.

An economist quoted by CNN Money said, “The problem with taxes on wireless is so many different jurisdictions impose taxes and fees.”

One of the charges you may have noticed is the Universal Service Fund charge, which is a fee levied to carriers by the federal government to ensure equitable and nondiscriminatory service across the nation in things like classrooms, libraries, and health care centers. In theory, it should provide high-quality service in areas that service the public interest. It’s separate from a similar sounding tax, the Federal Subscriber Line fee, which is required by the FCC (News - Alert) for carriers to conduct interstate business. The interesting thing – and what angers many subscribers – is that neither of these fees, plus a few others, are mandated to be passed on to the consumer. The carrier is just required to pay them to the government regardless of where they get the money from.

Since that fact infuriates most consumers, it’s good to hear once in a while that the funds are being used well. One example is a recently announced agreement between 8x8 (News - Alert) Cloud Communications and Learn 4 Life Charter Schools.  Under the agreement 8x8 will provide video, VoIP, mobile and group paging services for Learn 4 Life’s growing network. The new agreement is being subsidized by the E-rate program, which is the education arm of the Universal Service Fund – that annoying line item on your phone bill.

Learn 4 Life serves half of California at this time, instructing at-risk students with individualized programs that match the students’ learning style, goals and personal challenges. Their website doesn’t sugar coat the issue: “Our mission is a clear one: recover those students who have dropped out or who are in danger of dropping out. Get them into a resource center. Motivate them. Mentor them. Counsel them. And of course, teach them.”

It’s a valuable mission, since according to Education Week, over 3 million students drop out each year. Seventy-five percent of crimes are committed by high school dropouts, sixty percent of black dropouts have spent time in prison, and high school dropouts are not eligible for ninety percent of the jobs in the US. The dropout rate is significantly higher among Hispanic students, and over forty percent of the time that’s due to a pregnancy. Learn 4 Life is literally a lifesaver for some of these kids and 8x8’s service will help them serve them even better.

The new cloud connection agreement will provide high speed, high quality video connections between students and teachers without degrading any other IP based services like phone or Internet. The company will be able to group page all teachers remotely through their speaker phones, and students and staff will be able to access conferencing features through their smartphones using an 8x8 app.

The curriculum only requires students in be in class one day a week, so most work is done remotely; for students like these, the personal access to instructors and the accountability that comes from consistent communication is vital. Also vital is the ability to connect when it’s convenient for them, say during a bus commute or when the baby is napping. The agreement with 8x8 is poised to improve these features of the program while saving Learn 4 Life money.

They’re hoping to expand their services to more of California soon. 




Edited by Blaise McNamee

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