From the Associated Press, via the Portland Press Herald: The FCC has unveiled a plan for overhauling the $8 billion fund that subsidizes phone service in rural areas and for the poor and establishes a new "Connect America Fund" for mobile telephone and broadband in rural communities and needy areas.

The money will continue to come from a surcharge on consumers' and businesses' monthly phone bills. Rates should stay flat or decline for most consumers, FCC officials said. The size of the fund will be capped at $4.5 billion annually. To receive money for network expansions into designated areas, telecommunications companies will be required to enter a bidding competition.

The new fund will underwrite the cost of building and operating high-speed Internet networks in places that are too sparsely populated to justify costly corporate investments. It will include a $500 million "mobility fund" earmarked to help build mobile broadband networks in areas where businesses won't invest.