To make up for lost landline revenue, California could tax text messages

Ruben Fields
December 16, 2018

A California regulator's plan to tax texts in order to fund cellphones for the poor hit a snag Wednesday after a Federal Communications Commission ruled text messages aren't subject to the utility agency's authority. In its petition (PDS), Twilio cited instances of wireless carriers blocking texts from Rebtel, an OTT global calling facilitator. Our subscribers rely on FierceWireless as their must-read source for the latest news, analysis and data on this increasingly competitive marketplace.

Critics, however, assert the commission may empower carriers to block legitimate content. This action enables wireless carriers to discriminate against short-messaging services (SMS) and short codes, the standard five or six-digit vanity numbers used by organizations such as Catholic Relief Services for disaster relief campaigns, or by political campaigns and marketing firms.

But consumer groups and Senate Democrats say the FCC could have allowed classified texting as a common-carrier service and still allowed phone providers to block unwanted robotexts.

Currently, California's public telecommunications programs are faced with rising expenses associated with subsidizing low-income users and declining revenue from taxes on phone calls as people are making fewer voice calls.

However, according to FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, it was actually about censorship.

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Imagine having to pay a fee every time you sent a text message. The ruling doesn't offer any new ability to prevent robotexts; it simply allows for carriers to block text messages and censor content, she said.

The CPUC says that the fee, which would total just 70 cents for every $10 in text messages, is not going to significantly raise the monthly amount paid by consumers in the state. "We twist the law to reach the conclusion that you no longer have the final say on where your text messages go and what they say", she said in a statement.

Keeping your text inbox from becoming like your call log is why Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai says he backed the measure. The Commission's decision makes clear that wireless providers are authorized to continue their efforts to stop unwanted text messaging through robotext-blocking, anti-spoofing measures, and other anti-spam features.

"Harold Feld, senior vice president at Public Knowledge, stated Tuesday that the FCC's decision does nothing to curb spam, and is not needed to curb spam".

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