Wrong Legislative Thought Of The Day: An Email Tax To Save The Post Office (Techdirt)
Wednesday March 13th, 2013
There have been questions for quite some time now as to whether or not the traditional US postal system can survive the digital era. Frankly, the outlook isn't good, what with email replacing the sending of letters in large part and the postal service losing billions of dollars each year. The postal service itself tried to fight what I guess they thought was just a hip email trend by reminding everyone how terrible email is and how great letters are, or something. Sadly, it appears that campaign made little headway and the US mail system continues to look for a savior.
That's where Gordon Wozniak, Berkeley City Councilman and bad-idea generator, hopes to enter into the equation with his monumentally dumb idea of micro-taxing email, a service everyone uses, to fund the postal system, which nobody cares about.
Wozniak told the council: "There should be something like a bit tax. I mean a bit tax could be a cent per gigabit and they would still make, probably, billions of dollars a year… And there should be, also, a very tiny tax on email," perhaps one-hundredth of a cent. He said this would discourage spam and not have much impact on the typical Internet user. Wozniak went on to suggest a sales tax on internet transactions that could help, in part, fund "vital functions that the post office serves." Let's set aside for a moment that the proliferation of spam blocking software and appliances has mostly erased spam emails for anyone interested. If Wozniak wants to propose tax law, he should at least familiarize himself with the relevant laws on the books, including the Internet Tax Nondiscrimination Act, which bans internet taxes entirely. Seems like kind of a big roadblock, no? Fortunately, Wozniak's idea is not only dumb, but it's also completely unworkable, as noted by Harvard Law School's Jonathan Zittrain:
"To the extent that the cheap flow of flat rate first class mail has positive effects for society at large, the insistence that the Post Office be revenue-neutral may not make sense," Zittrain said. "Taxing email as an alternative, however, is a terrible idea: bad in theory and truly unworkable in practice. There have been proposals to see fees imposed on email by service providers — or recipients themselves — as a way of minimizing spam, but to impose an external tax on it when there are ready substitutes (Facebook messaging, anyone?), and when collection would be a nightmare, seems a non-starter. There is no reason to tax electronic mail users in particular to save the Post Office, any more than it would make sense to tax coffee drinkers to do it." In response, Wozniak said that despite not being an expert on internet taxes (wut?), he still thinks the idea deserves to be considered because "many billions of emails are sent every day [and] an email tax could raise substantial sums." By the way, he delivered that statement...wait for it...via email.
Well, I'm not a bad-idea tax expert, but since there are so many bad ideas generated every day, we could solve every financial crisis everywhere by taxing the hell out of bad ideas. Let's start with yours, Mr. Wozniak. After all, the postal service needs you.