California regulators are among the most creative rule-makers when it comes to separating citizens from their money. Take, for instance, this amazing new proposal to tax text messages in the name of “Economic Justice.”

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.

The wireless communications industry is pushing back.

The wireless industry and business groups have been working to defeat the proposal, now scheduled for a vote next month by the California Public Utilities Commission.

“It’s a dumb idea,” said Jim Wunderman, president of the Bay Area Council business-sponsored advocacy group. “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 move is in response to the increased use of mobile communications, which have replaced the traditional phone calls that were taxed under rules established over 80 years ago.

California is determining whether surcharges and user fees on text messaging comply with Public Purpose Programs, which use tax revenue to make telecommunications services accessible to low-income residents. The programs, which date to the 1930s, were given a face-lift in the late 1990s, allowing individual states to impose requirements to preserve what’s referred to as a “universal service.”

During the rise of the internet, the telecommunications industry was able to elude these taxes by offering “information services” like email and web browsing.

However, as mobile phone users shifted their behavior away from making phone calls, voice call revenue for these state programs has dropped by about a third, from $16.5 billion in 2011 to $11.3 billion in 2017, according to law filings.

Meanwhile, the budget for subsidizing poorer users has risen by almost half, from $670 million in 2011 to $998 million in 2017, the filings said.

The response to this proposal probably comes as no surprise to Legal Insurrection readers.

A decision issued Wednesday by the Federal Communications Commission would imperil California’s text tax:

On Wednesday, the Federal Communications Commission in a 3-1 decision declared that wireless Short Message Service (SMS) and Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) are “information services” similar to email under the Communications Act — and not a telecommunications service.

The FCC’s Wednesday decision denied requests from mass-texting companies that have complained wireless providers are thwarting their ability to reach consumers via texts. Chairman Ajit Pai and Commissioners Michael O’Rielly and Brendan Carr were in favor, with Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel opposed.

“We commend Chairman Pai and the FCC for protecting consumers from an avalanche of messaging spam and allowing them to continue to benefit from a flourishing and competitive messaging ecosystem,” said Scott Bergmann, CTIA’s senior vice president for regulatory affairs.

The vote could have an impact on California’s proposal to tax text messages. The Public Utilities Commission had no immediate response Wednesday, but text tax critics considered the FCC decision a victory.

I shudder to think what other taxes I will end up paying until I finally free myself of the progressive utopia that is California. How long before there is a run on yellow jackets in this state?


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