California Wants to Tax Text Messages

Regulators say it would help fund phone service for poor people
By Luke Roney,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 12, 2018 4:44 PM CST
California Wants to Tax Text Messages
A man uses his cell phone as he drives through traffic.   (AP Photo/LM Otero)

What are people saying about California’s plan to tax text messaging? “It’s a dumb idea,” Jim Wunderman, president of a business advocacy group, tells the Mercury News. A 25-year-old delivery man in Silicon Valley tells the paper the proposal is “absurd.” And a Twitter user laments that the Golden State would “tax your toilet use if they could.” But not all of the feedback about the California Public Utilities Commission’s scheme to scare up more revenue for the Public Purpose Program—which subsidizes phone service for the poor, per USA Today—is negative. “As long as it’s equitable … I’d be OK with it,” a Walnut Creek resident tells KTVU. Another person tells the station, “If it’s really used for what they say the purpose is, that’s a good idea.”

According to a CPUC report, the Public Purpose Program budget is growing while revenue for the program from telecommunications companies is shrinking as the trend of people favoring text messages over voice calls continues, a situation that is “unsustainable over time.” Opponents, however, say that wireless users already pay a surcharge for the program, per the Mercury News, and argue that texting is more like email than phone calls, and so the commission doesn’t have the authority to tax it. The proposal would reportedly raise about $44 million a year (as a flat surcharge, rather than a per-text fee), and it would be retroactive for five years. A CPUC vote on the proposal is set for next month. (California recently passed rules requiring solar power for new residences.)

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