Bridge Span 15-3: Putting Mobile Out of Reach in PG County

According to the Pew Research Center, minorities use mobile technologies more than whites. While African-Americans and Hispanics were much less likely to own a desktop computer, they owned laptops in equal numbers with whites, and are more likely than whites to own a mobile device. Importantly, minority groups use mobile “phone” capabilities to greater effect than other users. Whether for operating a business, research, games, watching video, communicating or listening to music those devices keep them plugged in to the world.

Essentially a suburb Washington, D.C., Prince George’s (PG) county is overwhelmingly non-white. According to the Census Bureau the county is approximately 70% African American or Hispanic, and those groups own more than 63% of the businesses. No one would be surprised to find mobile devices being deployed in virtually every aspect of life, improving business, education and communications.

These facts seem to have escaped the notice of PG’s County Executive Rushern Baker who has produced a proposed budget that would radically increase the county’s telecommunications tax. At an enormous 50 percent tax increase his proposal would make the county’s tax the second highest wireless tax burden of any jurisdiction in the country. The tax would also apply to cable service and wireline, effectively taxing every possible means of communications for citizens and business.

Citizens of the county already face a steep tax bill outside of the new expanded discriminatory tax. They pay a 6 percent state sales tax, a $0.25 monthly state 911 tax, a $0.75 monthly county 911 tax, as well as a 5.82 percent Universal Service Fund tax. All of this already amounts to $300 per year and now would increase to $360 per year and fall most heavily on those least able to pay. These are the sorts of reasons that led the people to have already rejected one attempted tax increase, with 71 percent of county voters voted against a wireless tax hike.

So why is the County Executive trying again to raise the very taxes that were already rejected? Reading motives is tough but clearly this path for a massive tax increase seemed the easiest. But why saddle an industry that is so vital for education, safety, communications and commerce with a tax rate that ends up at 26 perfect, well more than four times the amount of tax paid on other items?

Fortunately, there is still an opportunity to be heard and to ask questions. Tomorrow, a hearing is scheduled for 7pm and the Council is still accepting names to testify. To sign up, one only needs to contact Vanessa Valasco at 301-952-3600 and provide name, address and phone number. Each person will have up to 3 minutes to speak.

At a time when economic development experts are encouraging telecommunications companies to invest in broadband deployment and as wireless companies are the fastest growing providers of broadband service, what sense does a 50 percent tax increase make? What a poor plan for the future of PG county.

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