FCC Decision May Prevent California Utilities Commission from Taxing Texts

Businesswoman Texting

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted 3-1 Wednesday to classify text messages as an information service rather than a telecommunications service.  The FCC says the ruling allows wireless providers to combat robotexts and spam messages.  

The Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA), which represents the wireless communications industry, applauds the decision.

“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 CTIA Senior Vice President for Regulatory Affairs, Scott Bergmann.

While Wednesday’s decision focuses on wireless carriers' ability to block spam, KFBK Legal Analyst Bill Portanova says it likely scuttles an effort by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to tax your texts.

“In the face of the FCC’s vote, it would seem that the Public Utilities Commission’s vote attempting to alter that would be ineffective,” said Portanova.  “The feds win.”

That comes as good news to the California Association of Independent Business (CAIB).

“I’ve spoken to thousands and thousands of small business people across California and I can tell you that they would be vehemently opposed to any tax on texting,” said CAIB President Amy Mittino.  “Their businesses are dependent on communication.”

The CPUC has pushed back a vote on the item to January 10. 

“The proceeding deals with surcharges, which are percentage amounts that service providers, including wireless providers, assess on the total amount of a customer’s bill,” said the CPUC’s Christopher Chow.  “The surcharges are used to support public programs like 911 service; the CPUC’s LifeLine program, which subsidizes phone rates for low income consumers; and the Deaf and Disabled Telecommunications Program, which provides special equipment for the deaf and hard-of-hearing.”

“Per routine CPUC process, interested parties have submitted comments on this draft proposal and based on those comments, and the FCC’s decision, the draft proposal may be changed before the CPUC votes,” added Chow.

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