Breaking News Emails
Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
By Jane C. Timm and Dennis Romero
Sending emojis back-and-forth could soon cost you in California, if the state’s public utilities commission votes to approve taxing text messages next month.
California already taxes phone services, with the money going to fund public telecommunications programs like the 911 service and subsidized phone rates for low-income Californians. This new proposal from the California Public Utilities Commission would expand the public programs tax to text messages, too, though critics argue the state is flush with cash and shouldn’t be tacking on any additional fees.
Other have noted that some service wireless carriers — the ones who bundle services —already do charge the proposed tax on texting.
“The industry filed a petition asking the CPUC to clarify whether text messaging should be included in the bill amount that is subject to the existing surcharges,” a spokesman for the commission told NBC News. “The pending draft proposal recommends that the CPUC include text messaging revenue as part of the total bill amount subject to surcharge.”
Many wireless carriers bundle services and charged a fixed rate, and those consumers already pay a surcharge on the cost for their texts. For plans structured with separate costs for voice and texting services, the surcharge would be new.
The current rate is less than 7 percent, the commission said, so for $20 dollars of texting charges, the tax would cost consumers another $1.40. The commission is scheduled to vote on the proposal on January 10.
The proposal is the latest attempt to balance the nation’s continued shift toward cellular phones and a state’s need to keep funding public programs with taxes on consumers who may well not have a landline.
Still, some consumers and conservatives have balked.
“Taxing texts isn’t just regressive, it’s also unnecessary. The state is flush with cash, while ordinary Californians are struggling. The idea of increasing taxes on anything right now is absurd,” state Assembly member Marie Waldron, a Republican from north of San Diego, said.
The Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, a trade organization whose members include companies like AT&T, T-Mobile USA and Comcast, the parent company of NBCUniversal, told NBC News they oppose the measure, as well.
“We hope that the CPUC recognizes that taxing text messages is bad for consumers. Consumers exchanged 1.77 trillion messages in 2017, making text messages one of the most common and effective means of communication for Americans. Taxing this service would burden those who rely on and use this service each and every day,” said Jamie Hastings, CTIA’s senior vice president of external and state affairs.