CPUC Touts Tax on Text Messages

Californians might want to look past the holidays and mark their calendars for January 10, 2019. That day the Federal Communications Commission meets in San Francisco and will consider a plan by the California Public Utilities Commission to tax consumers’ text messages. Jamie Court of Consumer Watchdog told reporters the text tax is “just political B.S.” Jamie Hastings of wireless industry representative CTIA went on record that a tax on texts is “bad for consumers.” Jim Wunderman of the Bay Area Council told Newsweek “It’s a dumb idea. This is how conversations take place in this day and age, and it’s almost like saying there should be a tax on the conversations we have.”

The CPUC budget has increased from $670 million in 2011 to $998 million in 2017, so the regulators are not short on revenue. The CPUC wants the text tax to fund programs that make cell phone service accessible to low-income individuals. Consumers might recall that in 2012 the CPUC approved a plan to give free cell phones to the homeless, but it’s not clear if owners of “free” cell phones would be subject to the new text tax.

The FCC claims it has no authority over texts, but there’s no telling what those federal regulators might do on January 10 in San Francisco. As FreeGovernmentCellPhones.net noted in 2013, “the FCC has announced several changes to correct eligibility problems and made millions of additional Americans eligible for free government cell phones.” With largesse like that, nobody should rule out FCC approval of a tax on text messages.

Meanwhile, Californians might also mark their calendar for April 1, 2019. That day retailers outside of California will start collecting taxes on online purchases, even if they have no presence in the state. So no more bypassing California sales tax by shopping online. California’s sales and income taxes are the highest in the nation, and may soon be joined by a tax on texts. To paraphrase Spinal Tap, talkin’ bout taxes, my gov’s got ‘em.

K. Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and a columnist at American Greatness.
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