Comcast Nabs Huge Oregon Tax Break Thanks To Loophole Intended For Google Fiber
from the unintended-consequences dept
For a few years now, the city of Portland and the state of Oregon have been jumping through hoops to try and make Portland as attractive as possible for Google Fiber. That has involved rewriting city ordinances so that Google can place its utility cabinets along public rights of way, something previously banned in the city.
But the state of Oregon also notably reworked state tax law to provide Google with significant tax breaks. But the effort turned into a comedy of errors after initial rewrites technically disqualified Google Fiber (the revision said companies only qualified for tax breaks if they offered broadband speeds of at least 1 Gbps, while Google offers speeds “up to” 1 Gbps). But after several years of back and forth, the state this week moved to finalize the changes and craft a special Google Fiber loophole:
“An unusual Oregon tax may be the major factor that delayed the company’s Portland rollout. The Oregon Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that cable TV and Internet companies are subject to “central assessment,” a rare practice dating to the 19th Century that levies property taxes based partly on the value of certain companies’ brands. Applying the tax to Google would have added millions of dollars – perhaps tens of millions of dollars – to its annual operating costs, and the company threatened to drop its Portland plans if Oregon lawmakers didn’t exempt it from the tax.”
But while Google Fiber has yet to even start construction, Comcast has already rushed in to nab the tax incentives. You see, Comcast offers something it calls “Gigabit Pro,” a two gigabit per second service it has been offering to select areas since last year. The service promises 2 Gbps fiber to housing developments and other easy-to-wire locations, though the availability of the offering has been murkily defined at best. It’s also aggressively expensive: in contrast to Google’s $70 1 Gbps offering, Comcast’s Gigabit Pro costs $300 a month, plus $1000 in installation and activation fees (and a $1000 ETF for good measure).
Ironically, Comcast has been trying to get out of paying Oregon’s central assessment tax for years, only to be defeated before the Oregon Supreme Court in 2014. But thanks to the city and state tripping over themselves to please Google Fiber, Comcast gets a major tax break while the state takes a notable income hit:
“If the application is approved, schools, libraries and local governments across the state would receive significantly less revenue,” wrote Mary Beth Henry, director of Portland’s Office of Community Technology, in a letter to state regulators. “This application was not the kind anticipated by the Legislature.”
Comcast, in other words, is now enjoying rich new tax breaks despite offering a service four times more expensive than Google Fiber — which few people in Oregon will actually be able to afford. And while few people actually like Comcast or its business practices, it’s hard to fully fault the company for simply taking advantage of law rewrites the state of Oregon apparently didn’t fully think through.