by Victoria Beatley, Principal, HdL Companies

The COVID-19 pandemic changed many things, including our use of voice communications. When our work environment shifted from the office to home, we started communicating talking to each other on landlines, mobile phones, and the computer. Generally speaking, voice activity drives the amount of UUT on telecommunications bills. However, even though voice communications over landlines, wireless, and VoIP increased, the UUT collections did not increase significantly. Although this outcome seems counter-intuitive, there are a couple of things to keep in mind.

First, many mobile phone users have switched to unlimited data plans from voice minutes/data plans. Even though these “bundled” plans are called out in most municipal codes, there are different methods by which providers can allocate plan dollars to voice-related activities and services. While we may see minutes used on our mobile phone bills, we may not see any UUT being charged on those minutes in the billing cycle. The quick transition to virtual meetings through VoIP providers such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams is worth mentioning too. Local agencies are now seeing a spike in UUT revenues from companies that provide virtual meeting technologies. This is a trend that is expected to continue for quite some time.

The second significant change that has occurred over the last several years is the increase in video streaming services. Historically, Americans signed up with a traditional cable company to provide television services. More recently the number of cable subscribers has declined as more of us have opted into subscription services like Netflix, Hulu, and the like. Many of these linear video programming services are not currently collecting UUT from their users even though municipal codes have been updated to include specific language to capture these utility providers.

There are various lawsuits in other parts of the country specifically related to this topic and at least one has sided with local government in respect to