Bill for moratorium on cell phone taxes gets bipartisan support

The Cell Phone Tax Fairness Act of 2009 would ban new state and local wireless taxes for five years.

Cell phone taxes emerged yet again in Congress this week when Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) introduced the Cell Phone Tax Fairness Act of 2009 (HR 1521).

The bill, which has 20 additional cosponsors, would ban state or local jurisdictions from imposing "a new discriminatory tax on or with respect to mobile services, mobile service providers, or mobile service property, during the five-year period beginning on the date of enactment of this Act."

The legislation would not affect current state and local taxes, nor would it affect federal taxes, like the FCC Universal Charge. The Federal Excise Tax from the Spanish-American War was disconnected in 2006.

In statement, Lofgren said she hopes that the bill would further innovation and access in the wireless world. "The Cell Tax Fairness Act does not take away any existing revenue for state or local governments, it simply calls for a period of tax stabilization," she said. "This legislation will ensure that consumers make choices about communications technology based on the merits of that technology, rather than on the rate of taxation."

The wireless industry's lobbying arm, the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA), is supporting the bill. In its own statement, the association said it was glad to see "Congress moving ahead in the right direction to ease the tax burden on wireless customers." According to the CTIA, U.S. wireless subscribers paid $21 billion in federal, state, and local wireless taxes and fees during 2008.

The Tax Fairness Act is has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee. Wireless taxes were the subject of four similar bills introduced in the last Congress, one of which Lofgren drafted. None of the bills, however, emerged from committee for a full floor vote.