Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Geek Wednesday Update: The Sin Tax on Email

Ah, a debate! Our regular correspondent Nearly Redmond Nick weighs in on the EU's proposed email tax as follows (full text here):

...the explanation given by the proposers of the tax doesn't sit well with me: "Exchanges between countries have ballooned, so everyone would understand that the money to finance the EU should come from the benefits engendered by the EU," says Alain Lamassoure, a member of the European People's Party. So does that suggest that French Internet users were previously barred from sending dumb jokes to their amis in Italy? Was there a virtual barrier that blocked text messages from Ireland to Spain? If such hindrances ever existed, I never saw them.

I'm all for taxes when I can see some value out of their funding cause. Believe me, I'm more than frustrated that my $39.99 cell phone plan costs $50 a month because of the laundry list of taxes and fees tacked on to it, but I would think the $0.75 I pay for E911 would be the best deal ever if it saved my, or anyone else's, life just once (whether or not the project ever works is another story). But when we talk about a mobile technology that in its very definition is meant to reduce reliance on physical location, and the Internet, which was designed to be a communication tool, how does the formation of the EU enhance my use of SMS or email?

To me, this boils down to a sin tax, not unlike our own on alcohol and cigarettes. Now why a sin tax over email? Ah, you must not work in corporate America, then, my fortunate reader. Those of you who do know very well what I mean: email is used as weaponry, in the crudest, most malign way possible. In many places, this goes way beyond CYA stuff to the arena of gladiatorial combat, where one's mace is a vitriolic message that is cc'd and bcc'd to every Jane, Dick, and Harriet with an email address and the company's ID badge. In other words, it's spam that is served up by Fear rather than by Profit. Now I don't know how they deal with one another in Europe, but that's how it is here in USA, Inc. If the two cultures are at all alike in this respect, then I'm all for a sin tax on email, because it may induce corporations (the worst offenders) to restrict their employees' use of email, simply in order to keep the IRS at bay. As I have mentioned many times at the office where I work, cutting out the cancer of internal corporate email is truly a consummation devoutly to be wished.

The other thing I like about it is who would bear the bulk of the cost. In my personal life outside corporate America, I send maybe 100 emails a week. At .01 per email, my tax burden would be a buck for that week, which means an extra $52 for the year on my tax bill. Corporations and big media would suffer much more than that, assuming the tax was applied equably (which, given the other social cancer known as lobbyists, is not guaranteed). So the injustice would be more in the execution than in the concept. But that's also why we need a new government here, led by Al Gore and Barack Obama.

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