[imgcontainer] [img:jobgrowth.jpeg] [source]Economic Research Service[/source] This map shows job growth by county from the second quarter of 2010 to the second quarter of 2011. Red counties had job growth above the national average. [/imgcontainer]

Federal Communications Commission chair Julius Genachowski said Thursday that his reform of the Universal Service Fund would put about $4.5 billion into two large funds that would be used to bring wired and wireless broadband Internet connections to the 18 million homes that don’t currently have access, most in rural America. 

The FCC has been preparing a plan to reform the USF for some time. The USF collects a monthly charge from phone users. That money is collected in a fund that is used to pay for the extension of phone service to unserved areas. The USF collects up to $8 billion a year.

Cecilia Kang of the Washington Post reports that Genachowski didn’t provide details of his plan. He’ll unveil the full proposal on October 27 when it will go to the full FCC for a vote. 

Smaller providers fear that the chairman’s plan will favor large telecom companies. 

Here is Business Week’s explanation of the FCC proposal. 

• The Charleston Daily Mail reminds us that black lung is still a problem in coal country. 

A West Virginia attorney will lose his license for a year for failing to tell a coal miner of evidence that would help him prove he had black lung disease. The lawyer was working for Westmoreland Coal Co., where the miner had worked. The lawyer failed to tell the miner of tests conducted by the company showing the miner had black lung disease.

Black lung rates among miners have been rising.

• The New York Times writes from Neville, Ohio, about the cost to rural communities of post office closings: 

Shirley Keller, 75, mayor of the neighboring town of Chilo, gets weepy about the post office. As a girl, she used to cross to Kentucky by rowboat with the postman to help him collect mailbags.

“There are quite a few old people here,” said Ms. Keller, the mother-in-law of Chilo’s postmaster. “I don’t drive. It’ll be real hard to get to the post office in Felicity,” nearly five miles away.

Many rural residents have heard how the rise of e-mail and electronic bill-paying has caused the Postal Service’s volume and revenue to plummet.

“Everything is going to be the Internet,” said Carolyn Breisler, who is protesting the threatened closing in Decatur, Ohio. “Well, half the people in rural areas don’t have access to high-speed Internet. We’re not the ones putting the post office out of business. Yet we’re becoming the victims.”

• The partisan divide extends to disaster relief, reports YouGov.com.

The organization’s poll finds that 60% of Republicans would provide disaster relief only if the federal budget is cut elsewhere. Two-thirds of Democrats would provide the federal relief without corresponding cuts in the federal budget. 

• A federal judge has ruled that the Obama administration has overstepped in its attempts to limit mountaintop removal coal mining, Ken Ward Jr. reports

A federal district court judge ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency could not require a tougher permit for mountaintop mining under the federal Clean Water Act.

Ward explains the controversy:

While the coal industry favors mountaintop removal’s efficiency, and local political leaders praise the jobs provided, there is a growing scientific consensus that the practice is causing widespread and irreversible damage to the region’s forests, water quality and communities. A series of studies by West Virginia University have also linked living near mountaintop removal mines to higher rates of cancer, birth defects and other illnesses.

Coal industry lawyers and the other plaintiffs allege that EPA exceeded its authority, and that it put in place new permit requirements without first gathering public input on the changes.

• Here’s an advancement: the feds aim to improve their wind forecasting.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has deployed a dozen wind detection instruments across the upper Midwest in the past several weeks. The agency hopes to better predict wind energy production.

“If grid operators have more confidence in our weather forecasts, they’ll be able to avoid burning excessive fossil fuels,” Melinda Marquis, a renewable energy program manager with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) told InsideClimate News

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