The California Public Utilities Commission wants to make mobile pones more accessible to the poor. That is a noble mission but the means is likely to leave many irate. The Commission will vote on a proposal to tax text messaging — a proposal that raises both political and legal concerns.
The vote will be held next month and is being opposed by various business groups. It would like amount to a flat surcharge to people who want to text. It would raised roughly $45 million a year in extra charges.
The California Public Utilities Commission report says that a surcharge is needed to fund the program for access for the poor because revenues funding the program has declined.
There remains however a serious question of whether the Commission has the legal authority to impose such charges. The Federal Communications Commission is expected to object. It could come down to whether texting is an information service like email or a telecommunications service under the commission’s authority.
If the California Commission prevails, it could open up this growing method of communication to tax increases and surcharges in all 50 states.