Saturday, February 21, 2015

Internet Taxes, Another Window Into the Net Neutrality Debate

In a rare act of bipartisan unity, Republican and Democratic senators last week presented legislation that would permanently ban taxes on high-speed Internet service to American homes.
The bipartisan moment passed quietly, and understandably so. There’s no bold new step here. The legislation would make permanent a prohibition originally enacted in 1998, the Internet Tax Freedom Act, and reauthorized periodically since. The House passed a companion bill last year.
But the Senate move came shortly after Tom Wheeler, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, proposed strong, utility-style rules to protect an open Internet, or net neutrality. That reignited the debate over whether regulation plucked from the telephone playbook, called Title II, would open the door to the imposition of state and local taxes and fees — the litany of charges on monthly phone bills.
There were echoes of different motivations in the statements last week from the two principal sponsors of the Senate bill. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat and an author of the 1998 bill, emphasized the importance of the bill as a step to advance individual freedom. It was needed, Mr. Wyden said in a statement, to “protect the openness and viability of the Internet as a platform for commerce, speech, and the exchange of ideas.”
The Republican sponsor, John Thune of South Dakota, emphasized economic freedom. “For 21st century innovators and entrepreneurs, the Internet is their lifeblood,” Mr. Thune said. “We should be celebrating their success, not taxing the tools they use to achieve it.”

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