By: Brian DeQuincey Newman –
Living in a digital world is convenient, but it sure can get expensive. Not to mention the increasing price of broadband plans. You have to compare broadband costs nowadays to make sure you’re on the best plan for the cheapest price. We all love our smart phones, and apps give us so many opportunities to entertain, educate, and expand our minds. But some of the best apps cost money — and one dollar here, three dollars there, really does have a way of adding up.
But at least those few dollars are getting me something. You know the few dollars I really hate? The ones that get tacked onto bills in the form of mysterious government fees. We’ve all seen them at the bottom of our phone bills — there’s the federal excise tax, the state and local taxes and fees, and something called the Universal Service Fund. It’s frustrating enough when the USF charge is several dollars on my bill, but at least the state and local taxes have been negligible.
Sadly, that’s all about to change.
The way the law works, USF charges are only levied on “telecommunications services.” These telecom services have been limited to wireline and wireless telephone service, along with some Voice over IP providers. Now, the Federal Communications Commission is on the verge of including broadband services in that bucket of telecom services that are assessed the USF fees.
That part is bad enough — but it gets worse. Reclassifying broadband would add billions in new state and local taxes and fees. That’s the conclusion of a new study by authors from the independent Progressive Policy Institute and the Brookings Institution. In South Carolina, the annual increase would be $107 for wireline broadband service and $114 for wireless broadband. And that’s just per line. For a family with one wireline broadband connection to the home, plus two smartphones that connect to wireless Internet, that’s $335 a year — or almost $28 extra dollars a month in taxes and fees!
The fact that new wireless fees will be higher than wireline fees bodes especially poorly for minority communities. A Pew Internet study finds only 62 percent of African American households have a wireline broadband connection, compared to 74 percent of white consumers. But when you add in smartphones with Internet access, African Americans and whites are on equal footing—they have identical rates of smartphone ownership. Latinos also use mobile devices to get online at higher rates than other groups of Americans: Like African Americans, they’re more likely than white Internet users to report going online using a mobile device
The federal government is threatening onerous broadband regulation based on the completely unsubstantiated fear that without it, Internet providers will block or throttle competing Websites. The thing is, in the entire history of the Internet, that’s happened just a handful of times—and as soon as the transgression was been made public, the offending provider stopped what it was doing. Internet providers aren’t perfect, but they’ve all posted policies prohibiting the prioritization of Web traffic. And Comcast is already bound by net neutrality rules, under the terms of a recent merger with NBC Universal.
In order to prevent speculative harms caused by net neutrality violations that rarely if ever occur, the government is risking causing real harm to minority families throughout the country. Just like now, Internet providers will treat all Web traffic equally—the only thing that will change is consumers’ bills, as American families face a penalty of several hundred dollars per year. I only hope the FCC comes to its senses and realizes reclassification will do far more harm than good.
– Mayor Pro-Tem & Ciy Councilman Brian DeQuincey Newman