FCC Nixes California Regulators’ Plan to Add Fee to Texting

California telecom regulators wanted to impose a state fee on text-messaging services, but the Federal Communications Commission has squelched that plan by classifying text-messaging as an information service, not a telecommunications service. That’s the same classification the FCC applied to broadband when it repealed net neutrality and dictated that states cannot create their own net neutrality laws. Although California’s legislature is challenging the latter in court, it isn’t challenging the latest FCC ruling.

Ars Technica reports that, “the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) was scheduled to consider the text-message fee proposal at a meeting next month but pulled the item off the agenda after the FCC action.”

“Under California law, telecommunications services are subject to the collection of surcharges to support a number of CPUC public programs that subsidize the cost of service for rural Californians and for low-income, disadvantaged communities, and provides special services for the deaf, the hard of hearing, and the disabled,” stated the commission.

Because the FCC’s vote “limits state authority” over text messaging, Commissioner Carla Peterman withdrew “the draft decision in Docket R.17-06-023, which proposed to clarify that text-messaging service should be subject to the statutory surcharge requirement” from the CPUC’s January 10, 2019 Voting Meeting agenda.

Because landline and mobile phone services are classified as telecommunications services, “all telecommunications corporations and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) providers offering telephone service to the public in California are required to assess surcharges and User Fees on end-user intrastate service revenues and to remit the collected funds to the CPUC.”

In fact, the FCC hasn’t determined whether VoIP is an information or telecommunications service; likewise, text messaging was unclassified until last week. FCC chair Ajit Pai stated that, “federal law prevents states from regulating information services,” but, with regard to net neutrality, “state attorneys general who sued the FCC over its net neutrality decision argue that the FCC can’t preempt states in cases where the FCC has given up its own authority to regulate.”

The telecommunications service surcharge per customer has risen, “from 1.88 percent in 2011 to 6.68 percent in 2017.” In the now-abandoned CPUC proposal, the commission stated that it agreed with the idea that, “parties supporting the collection of surcharges on text-messaging revenue argue that it will help preserve and advance universal service by increasing the revenue base upon which Public Purpose Programs rely.”

Pai has stated that, “the new classification of text messaging will ensure that cellular carriers are legally able to block robotexts,” but Ars Technica adds that, “carriers were already allowed to block robotexts before the FCC change.”