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California wants to tax text-messaging…State regulators say surcharge on text messaging would help fund programs that make phone service accessible to the poor

Texting your sweetheart that you’re on your way home? California may soon charge you for that.

This is no LOL matter, critics say.

State regulators have been ginning up a scheme to charge a fee for text messaging on mobile phones to help support programs that make phone service accessible to the poor. 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.”

It’s unclear how much individual consumers would be asked to pay their wireless carrier for texting services under the proposal. But it likely would be billed as a flat surcharge per customer — one of those irksome fees at the bottom of your wireless bill — not a fee per text.

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Business groups, including the Bay Area Council, California Chamber of Commerce and Silicon Valley Leadership Group and others opposing the idea, calculated the new charges for wireless consumers could total about $44.5 million a year.

But they add that under the regulators’ proposal the charge could be applied retroactively for five years — which they call “an alarming precedent” — and could amount to a bill of more than $220 million for California consumers.

A dense California Public Utilities Commission report laying out the case for the texting surcharge says the Public Purpose Program budget has climbed from $670 million in 2011 to $998 million last year. But the telecommunications industry revenues that fund the program have fallen from $16.5 billion in 2011 to $11.3 billion in 2017, it said.

“This is unsustainable over time,” the report says, arguing that adding surcharges on text messaging will increase the revenue base that funds programs that help low-income Californians afford phone service.

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