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California to consider tax on text messaging to support phone accessibility for the poor

Posted at 4:29 PM, Dec 12, 2018

California regulators are considering a plan to charge a fee for text messaging on mobile phones to help fund programs that make phone service accessible to the poor.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is set to consider the proposal in a vote scheduled for next month, according to The Mercury News.

It's not clear how much mobile phone users would be asked to pay under the proposal, but it would likely be billed as a flat surcharge, not a per-text fee, according to the paper.

And wireless industry and business groups are not "LOLing." The groups are reportedly already trying to defeat the proposal before it makes its way to the commission.

“It’s a dumb idea,” Jim Wunderman, president of the Bay Area Council business-sponsored advocacy group, told the Mercury News. “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 new surcharges could generate a total of about $44.5 million a year, according to business groups.

The same groups warned that under the proposal's language, the charge could be retroactively be applied for five years, totaling more than $220 million for consumers, the paper reported.

Click here for a look at the proposal.

The proposal argues that the state's Public Purpose Program budget has increased from $670 million in 2011 to $998 million in 2016, while revenues funding the program from the telecommunications industry saw a "steady decline" from $16.5 billion in 2011 to $11.3 billion in 2017.

The report calls this "is unsustainable over time."

In a statement to the Associated Press, CPUC spokeswoman Constance Gordon said, "from a consumer's point of view, surcharges may be a wash, because if more surcharge revenues come from texting services, less would be needed from voice services."