By Zachary Atkins and Douglas Mo
A Florida trial court ruled that imposing different tax rates on cable and satellite television services did not violate the Commerce Clause or the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The statute in question imposes a statewide communications services tax at a higher rate on satellite service than on cable service. Rejecting the satellite industry’s contention that the differential tax treatment discriminates against interstate commerce, the court concluded that the challenged statute is facially neutral as to intrastate and interstate commerce because the tax applies whether the cable or satellite provider is located in or outside Florida or whether the service originated in or outside the state. The court also noted the statute does not reward in-state companies or activities at the expense of out-of-state companies or out-of-state activities. The court further held that there was a rational basis for classifying cable and satellite service differently because they are, in fact, different: they are organized differently; have different modes of operation; use different technologies and have different capabilities. The fact that satellite service is exempt from the local communications services tax that applies to cable service was also noted by the court. Although satellite service bears a higher rate under the challenged statute, the court held that the statute is part of a larger, comprehensive taxing scheme that treats cable and satellite service roughly the same. Summ. Final J. for Defs., DIRECTV, Inc. v. State of Fla., Dep’t of Revenue, Case Nos. 05-CA-1037 & 05-CA-1354 (Fla. 2d Jud. Cir. Ct. Oct. 9, 2013).