Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

These B.C. cities want to tax your cellphone company

Your cell provider may be taxed 1% on the revenue it generates from your bill, should cities succeed in a court claim
Three B.C. cities want to tax your cellphone company, under the Local Government Act provisions for utility companies | Photo: d3sign/Moment/Getty Images

Three large B.C. municipalities want cellphone and wireless network carriers to pay a one per cent tax on their revenue.

Surrey, Burnaby and Richmond have filed a claim in B.C. Supreme Court, asking a judge to have the carriers declared a utility company under the Local Government Act.

The cities are asking the court to make such a declaration because the companies are using infrastructure — legally known as “specified improvements” — within the municipality and generating revenue from it.

Such a declaration would mean the companies need to declare their revenue streams to the cities. The cities are seeking a judgment for taxes owing under the law, as well as costs.

The lawsuits, filed Sept. 8, name Rogers Communications, Bell Mobility, Freedom Mobile, Telus Communications, Fido Solutions, Terago Networks and Orion Wireless.

The three separate claims address differences between “traditional wireline systems” and “wireless access networks.” They state how “despite the introduction of these wireless elements, the carriers’ telecommunication system functions in much the same way as exclusively wireline systems.”

The claims note that wireless and wired networks intermingle on the same infrastructure, sharing the same “core network.”

And, “each of the carriers owns, rents, maintains, licenses, or operates infrastructure located within the city,” the cities note, having added maps of wireless towers, fiberoptic lines and devices affixed across the city. As well, the claims note the companies are using utility poles on public land.

“The carriers are not taxed on the assessed value of the improvements under” the law, which otherwise calls for a one per cent tax on revenue from “subscribers,” i.e., cellphone customers.

It’s unclear if the cities have been charging a tax for wired services, such as cable and landline phone subscriptions and this claim is an attempt to incorporate wireless services. Lawyers for the cities from McEwan Cooper Dennis LLP did not respond to Glacier Media's request for comment.

The companies have not filed a response to the claims.

[email protected]