To summarize a very complex issue as simply as we can: The Federal Communications Commission recently issued a proposal called “net neutrality” that changes the very nature of the internet. It would treat the internet like a utility and impose a whole new layer of rules and regulations on an industry that many say has thrived because it was unregulated and beyond government control.
Opponents say that part of the proposal would include taxes on all internet users to fund Lifeline Broadband, the internet equivalent of the free government cell phone program. That worries many members of Congress.
FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, who strongly opposes the new neutrality regulations, told Newsmax: “…the FCC has now explicitly opened the door to an increase in the tax that is going to be placed on broadband. I would imagine in the next month or two we’re going to see for the first time taxes placed on broadband bills. Your bill is going to go up.”
In the past, the FCC has assured concerned lawmakers that new regulations would not result in new taxes on internet users. Rep. Ron DeSantis, a skeptical Florida Republican, asked FCC Commissioner Tom Wheeler to guarantee that the new regulations would not trigger new taxes on American internet users.
“Can you guarantee to the American taxpayer, people who use broadband service, that if this goes into effect,” DeSantis queried, “that they will not see taxes show up as contributions to the Universal Service Fund (USF)?”
(The Universal Service Fund, administered by the quasi-independent USAC, is the organization that assesses, collects, and administers fees that appear on every American telephone bill. The money is used to fund Lifeline Assistance, the free government cell phone program, and it is assumed that the same organization would call the shots on the eagerly-anticipated Obama Broadband program.)
PersonalLiberty.com said, “Wheeler deflected, saying that the regulations were carefully drafted in keeping with the FCC’s assurances that there will be no new tax.”
That didn’t sit well with DeSantis, who wanted Wheeler to guarantee that American internet users wouldn’t find themselves burdened by any new internet taxes that might spring from net neutrality.
“We have said that this does not trigger universal service, as I said to a previous question,” Wheeler testily answered.
DeSantis refused to take no for an answer and reminded Wheeler that another FCC commissioner had already “…said that he believes Title II imposes a statutory obligation (for the tax).”
It would not be an exaggeration to say that Wheeler’s answer was nothing but political mumbo jumbo:
“Let me just be clear, because this is a specific point. That the provision — we have forborne from the provision that would authorize us, today, in this rulemaking, to do that, to have Universal Service.”
Then Wheeler backed up and took another stab at answering the question in a more straightforward manner:
“There is a joint federal-state board addressing that very question today,” he insisted. “How they resolve things in the future I do not know. But this rulemaking was very clear to say that we do not trigger that.”
Please allow us to translate from bureaucratese to English: “Oh, no, the FCC isn’t creating a tax. But we won’t stand in the way if Congress or states or municipalities decide to implement taxes as soon as this net neutrality controversy off the radar.”
If Lifeline Broadband is structured anything like Lifeline Assistance, the Obama Phone free government cell phone program, any monthly fees will be so insignificant that they will be completely overlooked on most people’s bills. For example, are you even aware that the free government cell phone program is funded by something called the Universal Service Fund that appears on your own phone bill every month. For most people, it’s a few cents or perhaps even a few dollars. A pittance for most people compared to the good it does for needy American citizens.
We support the tax, but we also support open, transparent government and hope that Congress and the FCC do not institute any new taxes without full and open hearings that expose all proposals to the light of day.
The American taxpayers deserve no less.