[imgcontainer right] [img:fDYDg.AuSt_.79.jpeg] [source]Mark Cornelison/Lexington Herald-Leader[/source] The Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader reports that business at drive-in theaters has turned around. This is the Sky-Vue Twin Drive-In in Winchester, Kentucky. [/imgcontainer]

The big telecoms have proposed to overhaul the $8 billion Universal Service Fund in such a way that it would bring broadband service to nearly every American within five years.

AT&T, Verizon and four other telecom giants presented their plan Friday for revising the USF, which was set up to pay for phone service to unserved areas. The AP explains the proposal: 

The telecom company proposal takes aim at several key criticisms of the Universal Service Fund, including complaints by Republicans that the program promotes waste by subsidizing multiple rural phone companies in places where the free market doesn’t support even one and by giving telecom carriers little incentive to keep their costs down.

The telecom company plan would cap the size of the new Connect America Fund at $4.5 billion annually, provide subsidies for only one provider in an area and target funding at places where there is no business case for companies to provide service on their own. In addition, it would create an Advanced Mobility/Satellite Fund to provide mobile broadband access in some of the hardest-to-serve areas.

The new proposal also seeks to overhaul the multibillion-dollar “intercarrier compensation” system, the Byzantine menu of charges that phone companies pay each other to connect calls and link their networks. Any changes to the Universal Service Fund would also require changes to intercarrier compensation because rural phone companies tend to rely heavily on both funding sources.

• A lockout began this morning at seven American Crystal Sugar plants in Minnesota, North Dakota and Iowa. The plants employed 1,200 workers.

American Sugar and the union representing the workers failed to come to an agreement on a new contract. When the contract expired Sunday evening, the company locked out the next shift of workers. 

•The monthly Main Street economic survey found a slowdown in growth in July. The index is kept by economists at Creighton University and covers small towns in nine Midwestern and Plains states.

The index has dropped four of the last five months. 

•San Francisco has recently changed its local regulations to allow people to raise and sell produce. Previously, this would have violated zoning laws. (In case you needed another reason not to live in San Francisco.) 

This has set off a trend, according to the L.A. Times. Berkeley will take up a measure that would allow residents to sell produce they raise without getting a permit. And 300 people came to a public hearing in Oakland about new regs that would allow people to raise chickens and bunnies in their backyards for food.

“There’s been a huge change in how we look at food and food production,” said Eric Angstadt, Oakland deputy planning and zoning director.

• Good to see that drive-in movies are still popular, at least in some places. Cole Claybourn reports in the Lexington (Ky,) Herald-Leader that there has been a turnaround in drive-in business — a turn toward the profitable. 

Drive-ins started getting first-run flicks. And people just liked coming out. (No sticky floors, after all.)

There are still 374 drive-ins nationwide with 618 screens.

•Republican fundraising is far below what it was four years ago. Candidates this year have raised only half of what candidates had banked four years ago at this time, according to Jason Clayworth at the Des Moines Register. 

• The National Association of State Budget Officers figure that cuts to K-12 public education totaled $1.8 billion nationwide last year and will reach $2.5 billion in this coming fiscal year. 

• The New York Times reports that restricting immigrant labor is having a bad effect on agriculture. 

• Lots of stories in papers about the social role post offices play in rural communities. In the Peoria Journal Star, Phil Luciano writes about Dennis Sank, postmaster of Bath, Illinois: 

Witnessing most of Bath’s modest history has been a squat block of a building at East First and South Oak streets. Hewn of lath and plaster, it looks as if it could last forever. If so, it likely would have to survive as something other than as a post office, as Bath is on the federal list of targeted closures. Though Washington says nothing is final, postmaster Sank holds out no hope of a reprieve in Bath.

“They’re not going to like that,” he says. “. . . And I’d miss the people.”

And vice versa. The post office is the only community hub, as evidenced outside by the glass-covered bulletin board. It doubles as a billboard: fliers tout detassling jobs (starting at $7.75 per hour), cut-rate cat neutering ($10), three poodle puppies for sale (already named: Paisley, Prancer and Paxton), and the widely popular Redneck Fishing Tournament (a contest to kill as many of the hated Asian carp as possible).

• The New York Times has its story questioning the management of the Missouri River.  See Richard Oswald’s testimony below. 

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