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Californians Could Be Hit With Cell Texting Fee

Sacramento, CA – Texting from your cell phone could cost you more in California if a new fee is approved by state regulators with the money targeted toward phone services for the poor.

The proposal is scheduled for a vote next month by the state Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), according to the Mercury News. The commission is deliberating whether to tack on a text messaging flat fee with the money raised, which could total about $44.5 million, going to phone accessible services for those in need. Business groups added that if the charge is applied retroactively for five years, which regulators are considering, the bill would be more than $220 million for California consumers. An exact amount consumers would pay wireless carriers is unclear, but it will likely be billed as a flat surcharge — not a fee per text, according to the newspaper.

The wireless industry and business groups have been working to defeat the plan. They argue that the state commission lacks legal grounds for doing so. “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.”

A report from the CPUC argues the fee is needed because the revenue generated currently from wireless carriers is not enough to cover the current $998 million budget for the Public Purpose Program. Its cost rose over $120 million from 2011 to 2017 while the telecommunications industry revenues funding the program fell from $16.5 billion in 2011 to $11.3 billion in 2017.  Admitting that the short fall will be “unsustainable over time,” the commission report notes that is why the text surcharge is needed. CPUC spokeswoman Constance Gordon says that for consumers the surcharge most likely will be “a wash because if more surcharge revenues come from texting services, less would be needed from voice services.”