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Tax ban expired . . . do not resuscitate

Nov 17, 20034 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsRegulation

Reports late last week indicated progress has stalled on a bill moving through the U.S. Senate that would revive a ban on Internet access taxes that expired Nov. 1.

This can only be interpreted as good news, even if – as remains likely – this no-longer-warranted moratorium receives a new lease on life. At least the voices of reason – primarily cash-strapped state officials – are being heard.

For those who oppose most any tax on the grounds that, well, they oppose most any tax, there isn’t much to talk about here.

For those who hold a more nuanced view of how government raises the money it needs, there should be merit aplenty in the argument of state officials that the time has come for Washington to strip the training wheels off the Internet in terms of protection from taxation.

One of the better cases I’ve read comes from Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican.

“Some say . . . that the Internet is too important to carry its fair share of the taxes,” Alexander said. “Is access to the Internet more important than food? If not, then why not limit the state sales tax on food, medicine, electricity, natural gas, water, corporations generally, car tags, telephones, cable TV? They are all in interstate commerce. Let us limit the tax on all of them from Washington, D.C.”

Alexander’s not exactly militant on the issue either, as he has backed a compromise position that would extend the ban . . . but only for another two years.

Shielding access providers from shouldering their fair share of the tax burden might have made sense when the Internet was a toddler. But today more than half of U.S. adults are already online – already paying access fees – and it’s a hard sell to argue that the incremental cost of a sales tax will cause even a handful to cut their connections. And that goes for broadband, too.

The states say they’ll lose billions of dollars in potential revenue if this tax moratorium is revived.

But we’re within sniffing distance of an election year, which makes it extremely unlikely that Congress will act in any way that might result in higher taxes, even if those taxes actually would be imposed at the state level.

Of course, what’s really at stake here are bottom-line corporate interests, not the health and well-being of the Internet or its users. Moreover, logic won’t carry the day one way or the other – lobbyists will.

Those too-candid camera phones

A colleague and I were standing side by side attending to our respective business in the company washroom when he blurted out: “You don’t have one of those camera phones, do you?”

It was one of those guys-laughing-in-the-john moments you had to be there to appreciate (or not).

But it also got me Googling for reports about how the proliferation of camera-equipped cell phones has spawned all manner of concern about their misuse in places such as locker rooms and lavatories. Health clubs are banning the things or restricting their use to lobbies and stairwells. Legislatures are considering action. Celebrities are making party guests check their phones at the door. Corporate security officers are weighing the risks posed by visitors and their photographic gadgets.

Call me crazy, but I’m sensing good news here, too.

Nothing seems to have been able to halt the seeping of cell phones into every nook and cranny of our lives . . . until the blasted things started taking pictures.

If fear of uninvited photography spurs change in our phone-related social customs, business practices and the law – and that results in a proliferation of cell-free zones – what’s not to like?

My cell phone is almost never on. Try