When all else fails, blame the government

One of the topics of discussion on Patt Morrison’s KPCC (public radio) show was an upcoming FCC hearing on cell phone billing. As usually happens, I heard snippets of the discussion, and the first of these snippets came from a caller, who demanded to know why he paid $30 per month for “unlimited data,” yet had to pay still more just to send text messages. Isn’t text data?

I sympathized. I refuse to use the Internet on my phone, no matter how many preset shortcut keys try to drive me towards it (I repogrammed as many shortcuts as possible, of course), and as such I usually don’t incur what’s referred to as “data” charges. My problem is that I pay extra for text messages while using only a fraction of the minutes I pay for, and of course I have the cheapest voice plan possible (for my provider).

The next snippet I heard, driving back to my house, was from soulless lobbyist hack John Walls, vice president of public affairs for CTIA, the International Association for Wireless Telecommunications Industry. His attitude about the hearings could be summed up as “bring it on,” as he seemed to think Congress didn’t have it in them to reign his people in. Undaunted, Morrison asked him if the telecom people would “welcome changes in the billing practices to make them clearer.” This was his response:

We think it’s, it’s appropriate that you itemize the billing… so they understand exactly who is charging them what. Right now, the average consumer is paying a little more than 15% of their monthly bill in taxes and fees, and those aren’t imposed, or charged, by the cell phone industry, they’re done by local governments, and state governments, and as well for universal service support, among other taxes and fees. So we think it’s important that people understand there’s a cost of their service, but there’s also all these other taxes and fees that are lumped on  there, and if they really wanna do something about that, they should talk to these passengers, they should let them know that enough is enough.

Oh my gosh! Fifteen percent?! Well folks, I’m going to make your day by giving you a peek into my cell phone bill, so we can try to see how on the nose this is.

Verizon Wireless Surcharges and Other Charges & Credits

Verizon Wireless Surcharges – Includes charges to recover or help defray costs of taxes and of governmental charges and fees imposed on us by the government. Other Charges and Credits – includes charges for products and services, and credits owing.
$2.09
Fed Universal Service Charge
1.03
Regulatory Charge
.07
Administrative Charge
.92
CA State P.U.C. Fee
.07
Taxes, Governmental Surcharges & Fees

Includes sales, excise and other taxes and governmental surcharges and fees that we are required by law to bill customers.
$1.03
CA State 911 Fee
.21
CA State High Cost Fund (B)
.10
CA Teleconnect Fund Surchg
.03
CA State High Cost Fund (A)
.05
Lifeline Surcharge – CA
.46
CA Advanced Svrcs Fund (CASF)
.10
CA Relay Srvc/Comm Device Fund
.08

Um, wow. Yeah, that $0.03 charge is really breaking my back. Something must be done! In fact, I did the calculations and my taxes and fees take up a whopping 5% of my bill. Hell, that’s lower than our sales tax!

I’ve had a theory for a long time, although I’m sure it’s not an original one, considering various forms of what this scumbag lobbyist called “itemizing.” It’s pretty simple, actually. If you are in the United Kingdom, for instance, and decide to buy a ₤2.50 sandwich, you will pay exactly ₤2.50 when you get to the register. If, however, you are in the United States, say Riverside, California, and decide to buy a $5 sandwich, you will end up having to dig for change to pay $5.43.

As you may well be aware, the VAT (Value Added Tax) that Brits pay puts almost any American jurisdiction’s tax rate to shame, yet it’s Americans who are induced by the price-displaying practices of their country, to curse the government for that “extra” $0.43.

Some people think this sounds like a conspiracy theory, but when you hear an actual lobbyist offer this as a solution to high cell phone bills, you have to realize that singling out the taxes (however meager) is in fact their strategy not only for distracting you from how much they’re overcharging you, but for incessantly driving people to the notion that no taxes are justified. I mean, who needs to pay for roads and junk, anyway? Society? Eh.

The fact that the dude had to lie about it (sure maybe somewhere you pay 15%, but Southern California is after all one of the higher-taxed jurisdictions, as far as I know, and certainly he was talking to us) just shows that he is doing his job the only way it can be done.

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