FCC poised to impose Internet taxes

The Federal Communications Commission is in the middle of a high-stakes decision that could raise taxes for close to 90 percent of Americans. The commission is considering whether to reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service and, in doing so, Washington would trigger new taxes and fees at the state and local level.

The agency would like to make Internet service a public utility, placing broadband under Title II regulation of the Communications Act of 1934. This move would make broadband subject to New Deal-era regulation, and have significant consequences for U.S. taxpayers.

Under this decision to reclassify broadband, Americans would face a host of new state and local taxes and fees that apply to public utilities. These new levies, according to the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI), would total $15 billion annually. On average, consumers would pay an additional $67 for landline broadband, and $72 for mobile broadband each year, according to PPI’s calculations, with charges varying from state to state.

Proponents of broadband reclassification, including the left-of-center organization Free Press, claim that it would not result in higher taxes or fees. The recently extended Internet Tax Freedom Act, they assert, prohibits state and local taxation of Internet service. This is incorrect, however. The act does not apply to telecom-related fees.

Free Press and other broadband reclassification proponents also say the new taxes and fees can be prevented if the FCC designates broadband as an interstate service. A Progressive Policy Institute report explains why this also is incorrect:

“When the Commission previously considered the jurisdiction of Internet traffic, it determined that such traffic was ‘largely interstate,’ but ‘jurisdictionally mixed.’ States routinely tax jurisdictionally mixed services that are classified as ‘interstate’ for purposes of regulation. For example, wireless services may not be regulated by state public utility commissions, but they are subject to a host of state and local taxes and fees. In several states, interstate wireless revenues are subject to taxation.”

Late last year, President Barack Obama waded into this contentious debate. He called for the Internet to be treated like a public utility. Critics of Obama’s position point out….

By Grover G. Norquist and Patrick Gleason – Reuters –