A tax on texting could be on the cards in 2019

The U.S. state of California is proposing a tax on text messages, because people have stopped making phone calls. The state is looking to increase revenues for underserved communities with a monthly surcharge on mobile users’ bills for SMS services.

California’s Public Utilities Commission places fees on voice services, but because less people are making these calls, it figures it can make up the one-third shortfall by taxing texts. It believes up to $44.5 million a year could be raised to subsidise these lower earners.

Naturally, the phone companies aren’t exactly ecstatic about the proposals, which the commission will vote on on January 10 2019. The phone companies trade group argues that a federal law classifying texts as an ‘information service’ like email would prohibit such a tax being levied on them.

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Another factor to consider is the range of texting services on offer. While it would be easy to regulate cellular SMS services through user tariffs, many folks opt for web-based services like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Apple’s iMessages as an alternative.

The CITA, which represents the mobile companies says it would create inequity “between wireless carriers and other providers of messaging services.”

“Subjecting wireless carriers’ text messaging traffic to surcharges that cannot be applied to the lion’s share of messaging traffic and messaging providers is illogical, anticompetitive, and harmful to consumers,” the CTIA said in its filing (via CNN).

Whether the motion will pass, or be subject to change remains to be seen.

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