By Maria Todorova and Suzanne Palms

The Washington Court of Appeals recently held that Seattle could not impose a utility tax on revenue derived from international roaming charges (charges for mobile telephone communications that originate in a foreign country). City of Seattle v. T-Mobile West Corp., No. 75423-8-1 (Wash. Ct. App. May 22, 2017). Washington law grants cities the authority to tax revenue derived from “intrastate toll telephone services” (services that incur a fee and that originate and terminate within the same state). See RCW 35.21.714(1). The Court of Appeals found that because roaming charges involve communications originating in a foreign country, they are not derived from intrastate telephone services, and are therefore exempt from the City’s utility tax. The appellate court further held that the City’s reliance on the federal Mobile Telecommunications Sourcing Act (MTSA) conflated the sourcing of roaming revenue—which is governed under the MTSA—with the taxability of that revenue in the first place—which is governed under state law.