Berkeley Councilman Proposes Taxing Email to Fund Post Office

A 1 cent per megabyte tax would mean that today you would be paying a 60 cent tax to watch a movie and 14 cents to watch a YouTube video.

OCCUPY your email

Unsurprisingly he's a Democrat. Even more unsurprisingly, he's a former Grad student. Wozniak is not too bad by Berkeley standards. He took a common sense position that would have prevented the Code Pink protests and called for ending Berkeley's ban on nuclear power investments.

But Berkeley is still Berkeley.

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.”

If the Post Office needs to be funded by taxing email, then it's an open question whether we need the Post Office. And since email is already partly subsidized through the Universal Service Fund, this whole thing is that much more senseless. It's like taxing the phone to keep the telegraph going.

But it's not a wacky idea that Wozniak made up.  The email surcharge free idea has been floating around for a while, sometimes as urban legend, sometimes as reality.

Some companies proposed the 1/100 surcharge as a spam fighting measure, which is where Wozniak got the idea, but the real core source of this appears to be the place where all good ideas come from... especially in Berkeley... the United Nations.

The United Nations Development Program examined such a tax in its 1999 Human Development Report, Globalization With a Human Face, as a way to fund “the global communications revolution.” UNDP calculated that in 1996, such a tax would have raised $70 billion globally.

Technically speaking the UNDP was not proposing to tax emails. That would have been nuts. Instead the UN was proposing to tax kilobytes.

There is an urgent need to find the resources to fund the global communications revolution—to ensure that it is truly global. One proposal is a “bit tax”—a very small tax on the amount of data sent through the Internet.

The costs for users would be negligible: sending 100 emails a day, each containing a 10-kilobyte document (a very long one), would raise a tax of just 1 cent. Yet with email booming worldwide, the total would be substantial. In Belgium in 1998, such a tax would have yielded $10 billion. Globally in 1996, it would have yielded $70 billion—more than total official development assistance that year

A 1 cent per megabyte tax would mean that today you would be paying a 60 cent tax to watch a movie and 14 cents to watch a YouTube video.

Want to upload 40 photos from your iPhone to Instagram? That will be 40 cents. Each song would carry a 2-3 cent tax. Downloading a game? Get ready to pay 4 bucks tax.

The troubling thing is that it is feasible. Unlike Gordon Wozniak's proposal, coming from a man who got on Twitter once in 2010 and hasn't used it since, it could work. It would also be quite creepy and totalitarian.

One more reason that America needs to be a UN-Free Zone.