Joint Center report Makes it Plain: The Social Cost of Wireless Taxation

In a paper just released by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies entitled, “The Social Cost of Wireless Taxation: Wireless Taxation and its Consequences for Minorities and the Poor,” authors Nicol Turner-Lee and Joseph S. Miller point out that while African-Americans and Latinos are leading the nation in wireless and smartphone usage, they disproportionately comprise the nation’s low-income population. “When states raise the tax burden on the most vulnerable Americans, the ability of these citizens to break the trajectory of poverty by connecting to vital services and opportunities is more difficult, and the incentive to use broadband for these purposes is diminished.”

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We need initiatives to strengthen not weaken the economic prospects of these communities, which means proactively looking for ways to remove barriers to success. According to scholars from the Media and Technology Institute at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, one way that state and local governments can achieve these goals is through comprehensive reform of taxes against wireless services, digital tools and digital services. The report cites, “Left unchecked, this tax structure will continue to harm low-income consumers who stand to gain the most from the potential of wireless broadband to lower their cost of living while improving their prospects in healthcare, employment, and other areas. Preserving this regressive tax approach would also have significant racial side effects as it would disproportionately increase taxes on minorities across the board, irrespective of household income.”
Last week’s release of the latest unemployment numbers showed that even though new jobs growth slowed sharply in October, the unemployment rate did decline slightly as more people found work. The trend is positive, and should certainly be acknowledged. But we can’t lose sight of the fact that October’s 9 percent unemployment represents 13.9 million Americans that remain out of work – and regardless of any improvement, this number is still much too high. Rural, poor and minority communities make up a disproportionate number of the 13.9 million.

In our increasingly digital society, there is a constant stream of new and advanced technologies being created to help improve our lives. But it isn’t just enough for these technologies to be out there and available to some. If we accept a situation where there is a very large group of people who cannot get access (for any number of reasons) then we are essentially holding these people back from doing whatever they can to improve our society as a whole. Such is the case with barriers that stand in the way of lower-income and minority communities being part of the Digital Revolution.