Comcast Tax Break Screwing Over Consumers

#Concast claims it’s not a data service to avoid one tax while claiming it offers high-speed data to avoid another.

By Shamus Lynsky of Portland, Oregon. Shamus is the executive director of the Oregon Consumer League.

You can always count on two things to be true when it comes to Comcast:

  • Their terrible customer service, according to real customers
  • Their willingness to go to great lengths to avoid paying their fair share of taxes

If you’d like a refresher on why Comcast has such a poor reputation for service, listen to this poor customer's experience. And if you need to brush up on Comcast’s tax avoidance schemes in Oregon, here you go:

For years, Comcast got away with paying exceptionally low property taxes because the company claimed it did not provide a “communication service” subject to Oregon’s central assessment method of assessing taxes.

If you’re saying to yourself ‘Wait — doesn’t Comcast exclusively provide a communication service?’ then you’d be right. In 2009, the Oregon Department of Revenue (DOR) agreed that Comcast was in fact a communication service provider — its internet access and cable TV services fit the bill to a T — and the company was required to begin paying its fair share of taxes.

Apparently not wanting to end its free ride, Comcast sued the DOR over this decision, but Oregon’s Supreme Court rejected Comcast’s argument and sent the case back to tax court. The case is still dragging on, and the taxes that Comcast owes aren’t being paid — by now, more than $100 million in taxes have been held back. (And just because the company has saved millions in Oregon tax breaks doesn’t mean Oregonians are feeling the savings, too! Just this past year, basic rates in Oregon rose 4.5% — more than triple the rate of inflation in the Portland area.)

In the meantime, Comcast and others lobbied the 2015 Oregon legislature for a break on their property taxes to offset the DOR’s ruling. The legislature delivered with Senate Bill 611. SB 611 was a package of tax breaks that included a provision to cap central assessment for Comcast and other telecom companies — which would potentially save Comcast tens of millions of dollars over time.

You’d think that’d be enough for Comcast — but it wasn’t. SB 611 also included a tax break for telecom companies that offer affordable, high-speed internet as a way to draw new services like Google Fiber to Oregon. With that break, Comcast saw dollar signs, reversing its claim that it does not provide a “communication service,” proposing that its existing (and wildly expensive) Gigabit Pro service qualifies for the new tax cut — which would allow the company to avoid paying tens of millions of dollars more each year. Thankfully, the DOR didn’t buy that claim and wisely rejected Comcast’s application — the decision that is now under appeal.

Don’t let #Concast have it both ways. Comcast can afford to pay its taxes, and Oregon shouldn’t be giving them another tax break. Click here to learn more about how to urge Oregon’s Department of Revenue to Stop the Comcast Con!

also on blueoregon