At a recent Berkeley City Council meeting, Gordon Wozniak (District 8), floated an idea that perhaps a huge chunk of of the United States Postal Service's financial woes could be resolved by taxing email.
My first reaction upon reading the New York Daily News article (which they picked it up from Berkeleyside!) was is this guy serious??…which was closely followed by wondering whether he is any relation to Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak? In fact, he is The Woz's brother!
The Woz can certainly be accused of Thinking Outside the Box, so I suppose The other Woz could be expected to as well.
Years ago, Berkeley had a reputation of butting heads with the national establishment. But, I'd suggest that has been ratcheted back a fair amount since the days of the Gus Newport.
That's why I was surprised to see the post on Facebook promoting the Daily News' article about Wozniak's idea.
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There's no arguing with the fact that Internet communications decimated the USPS' pocket book with its ability of near instantaneous communications.
Just yesterday I mailed two First Class letters. These were the first letters I'd mailed in probably six months. I honestly, can't remember.
Beyond that I do my banking on the Internet. Make many of my purchases over the Internet, and the first library I seek out is the Internet.
None of that activity requires a physical piece of paper be stuck inside an envelope with a stamp affixed to it.
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Just for argument's sake let's take a look at this idea.
On its surface, it sounds like a really simple and practical idea. After all, If you send a physical letter, you put a stamp on it. Why not If you click the Send button in your email client, you pay a very small tax of a centipenny. (Don't bother looking up that term. I made it up since there's no such denomination as 1/100th of a penny).
However, that's where the simplicity and practicality ends, and the futility of the idea begins.
When a normal piece of mail is sent, it must go through the USPS. Even all that Third Class junk mail we get too much of is counted, calculated, and charged postage.
With email, your computer connects with any of a number of service providers, who then route it through, as the late Ted Stevens (R-AK) famously suggested, nothing more than a series of tubes to its final destination. Your email provider doesn't even have to be physically located within the boarder of the United States.
Because of that global presence, there is no single gatekeeper, and trying to create one would be harder than making the 20,000 miles of the USA's border* 100% secure.
If you were to examine all the email sent to you, not just what gets by your service provider's SPAM filters into your inbox, you'd probably find a great portion of it is SPAM and Phishing schemes that originate outside the American borders.
Even if they are legit mailings, many of the senders change IP addresses and email addresses more often than the Santa Ana winds change direction in August, so it's impossible to get be removed. Does anyone really expect them to pay their taxes?
According to a Pingdom Internet research group study the average number of emails sent per day (Worldwide) during 2012 was 144 BILLION (try imagining Dr. Evil's voice as you read that figure!) and of that nearly 70% is unwanted SPAM.
The same study says this was generated by 2.4 billion internet users World Wide, of which only 245 million users are located within the United States. There is no breakdown of whether a user sends an occasional email, or 1000 in a bulk blast.
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The idea of an email tax actually isn't new. Back in the 1999, a United Nations report suggested this might be a way to raise money and help improve emerging global societies. It never got beyond the discussion stage.
A year prior to that, the United States passed the Internet Tax Freedom Act, which among many things, put a moratorium on email bit taxes. This moratorium has been extended multiple times, and is the law of the land until next year, when the moratorium is set to expire.
With the ever expanding National Debt being estimated as nearing $19 Billion by 2014, I can imagine a taxation on the Internet might be discussed by Congress. Any effort to impose such a tax on email, or Internet usage as a whole (with a bandwidth tax), would need to be watched like a hawk.
It's one thing to suggest a tax on email, but once you start suggesting taxes on connectivity (i.e.: Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets), you are running afoul of restricting people's freedom of speech.
Better yet Congress, how about you forget this idea even came up and PERMANENTLY extend the moratorium?
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*20,000 miles is the approximate mileage of the Canadian and Mexican borders, added to International water coastlines.