(Bloomberg) -- The US Supreme Court declined to question the $8 billion annual subsidy that helps cover the cost of telecom services for poor people and residents of rural areas, turning away two appeals that sought to rein in federal regulatory power.

The rebuff, which came without comment,leaves intact the decades-old Universal Service Fund, which uses a charge imposed on monthly phone bills to help more than 8 million people afford service. 

A group led by the conservative advocacy organization Consumers’ Research challenged the program as giving too much power to the Federal Communications Commission and the private entity that administers the fund. 

Federal law “delegates Congress’s revenue-raising and taxing powers to an unelected agency bureaucracy without clear and meaningful limitations,” the group argued in near-identical appeals of two lower court rulings that upheld the program.

The appeals sought to revive the so-called non-delegation doctrine, a legal theory the Supreme Court last invoked in the 1930s.  

The Biden administration urged the Supreme Court to reject the appeals without a hearing. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar argued that a 1996 law “sets forth intelligible principles that guide and limit the FCC’s exercise of discretion in collecting universal service contributions.” 

Several of the court’s conservatives have hinted in past cases they are interested in revitalizing the non-delegation doctrine. The court has watered down the doctrine in recent decades, saying Congress can delegate its powers as long as it lays out an “intelligible principle” for agencies to follow.

The broadband industry supported the Universal Service program during the court fight, saying companies have made major investments in hard-to-reach areas in reliance on the subsidies. 

Telecom providers such as AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. collect the fees from customers and funnel the money back into the program. Rates have soared in recent years because the fees are assessed against old-fashioned voice calls, which are diminishing. 

The Supreme Court will probably have another chance to take up the issue in the coming months. A different federal appeals court, the staunchly conservative 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals, is also considering the issue and could rule against the government. 

The cases are Consumers’ Research v. Federal Communications Commission, 23-456, and  Consumers’ Research v. Federal Communications Commission, 23-743.

--With assistance from Todd Shields.

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