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Uncle Sam's collect call

National | One phone company is to stealth communications taxes what Caller ID is to unwanted telemarketing pitches

Issue: "Supreme Court dividing line," May 6, 2000

My phone company, Bell Atlantic, is performing a valuable public service by refusing to conspire with the federal government in hiding taxes that masquerade as "fees" and "charges." On its new redesigned bill, Bell Atlantic has itemized all of the government assessments not related to what the company charges for phone service. There are the Federal Subscriber Line Charge, Relay Center Surcharge, Public Rights-of-Way Use Fee and other taxes listed that go to the federal and state governments. On the enclosed long-distance bill that the local phone company collects for my chosen long-distance carrier (AT&T), things get interesting. There is the Universal Connectivity Charge, which Al Gore pushed so he could wire our libraries to the Internet. Mr. Gore did not want this charge itemized for fear it would look like a tax (which it is). There is also a Carrier Line Charge. Like most taxes, the Universal Connectivity Charge is going up-from a flat fee to an 8.6 percent assessment based on the total amount for state-to-state and international calls. The Carrier Line Charge is a fee (tax) that the Federal Communications Commission charges local phone companies based on the number of phones in a residence. It is assessed when anyone makes long-distance calls. This month President Clinton announced a new tax on our phones so that Native Americans can have access to the Internet. Long-distance users will have their taxes raised an additional 0.4 percent to generate an estimated $17 million annually for this purpose. Since half of the Native American population does not have telephones, about 300,000 households will receive basic phone service. Federal Communications Commission Chairman William E. Kennard says the rate increase does not need congressional approval and is considered a fee rather than a tax. Speaking in government dialect, Mr. Kennard told reporters, "It's a reinvestment in the (telephone) network." It is still a tax and, like the other charges on phone bills, it is being levied in spite of a controlling legal authority-Congress. The Constitution mandates that all federal taxes originate in the House of Representatives in order that the people might hold their leaders accountable. Therefore, this unconstitutional and outrageous garnishment of our money, using the phone company as a front, should be stopped. If the administration thinks it is important for Native Americans to be wired to the Internet, let it persuade those tax-free and competition-free enclaves known as Indian casinos to cough up some of their huge profits to subsidize the effort. At a minimum the president should ask for congressional authorization. In his announcement of this latest illegal taxation, President Clinton introduced 13-year-old Myra Jodie as his poster child. Myra won a computer in a contest she had entered on her school's computer, but she lacked phone service in her two-bedroom mobile home in Arizona and so can't connect to the Internet at home. She was quoted as saying that when she gets on the Internet at home she plans to research her favorite bands. Oh, and she'll research colleges she might like to attend someday. She can do both in the school library. The Internet ought not to be another personal-entitlement program, especially when access is available at schools and libraries wired for that purpose by Mr. Gore's phone-bill tax. In a 1997 interview with James Glassman for the publication TechoPolitics Report, then-FCC Chairman Reed Hundt endorsed hidden phone-bill taxes because he said they are shared by all and accomplish "a national goal through putting a burden on everyone who uses the existing communications system." What "national goal"? No one consulted me or my elected representatives on these topics. These are goals established by politicians for their own purposes. Congress should put a stop to this. If we are to be taxed, members should be on record favoring or opposing such taxes. Stealth means of reaching into our pockets to fund Internet access and phone lines for Native Americans without congressional approval is a collect call from government we should not have to accept.

-© 2000, Los Angeles Times Syndicate

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Cal Thomas
Cal Thomas

Cal, whose syndicated column appears on WORLD's website and in more than 500 newspapers, is a frequent contributor to WORLD's radio news magazine The World and Everything in It. Follow Cal on Twitter @CalThomas.

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