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Consumer Confidential: Cellphone taxes, 401(k) matches, beer sales

November 2, 2011 | 10:02 am


Here's your watching-the-detectives Wednesday roundup of consumer news from around the Web:

--At least your cellphone bill may hold steady. The House has approved a five-year freeze on any new state and local taxes imposed on cellphones and other wireless services, including wireless broadband access. The voice vote reflected a consensus that new taxes on wireless mobile services have far outpaced average sales taxes on other items and have become a deterrent to the spread of wireless broadband technology. Wireless customers reportedly now pay 16.3% in taxes and fees, more than double the average rate of 7.4% on other goods and services. The bill prohibits state and local governments from imposing so-called discriminatory taxes on mobile services, providers or cellphones for five years.

--Some more good news: Most of the companies that either suspended or reduced their 401(k) matches during the economic downturn have reinstated them, according to business consultant Towers Watson. An analysis of 260 mid- to large-sized companies shows that 75% of those that took the step to cut costs have restored their match. Among those, about 74% are continuing the match at the previous level. About 23% brought matches back at a lower rate. Among these companies, the reinstated match was slightly more than half of their original contribution. Just 3% restored matches at a higher rate. I wonder what companies those are.

--But here's a sign that times are still tough: We're not chugging as much brewski. MillerCoors, the country's second-largest brewer, says its third-quarter net income fell 14.1% due to a weak economy, low consumer spending and higher commodity costs. The combined U.S. operations of SABMiller and Molson Coors Brewing, which make Miller and Coors brand beers, said underlying net income in the July-September quarter slipped to $286.9 million, while net sales were down 2.5% at $1.965 billion. The brewer has a U.S. beer market share of nearly 30%, behind Budweiser brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev's share of almost 50%. So do your bit for the economy and hoist a few.

-- David Lazarus

Photo: Lawmakers want to hold cellphone taxes steady for five years. Credit: Jason Alden / Bloomberg