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Government Communications The Almighty Buck

City Councilman: Email Tax Could Discourage Spam, Fund Post Office Functions 439

Posted by Soulskill
from the let's-also-tax-keystrokes-and-thinking-about-cats dept.
New submitter Christopher Fritz writes "The Berkeley, CA city council recently met to discuss the closing of their downtown post office, in attempt to find a way to keep it from relocating. This included talk of 'a very tiny tax' to help keep the U.S. Post Office's vital functions going. The suggestion came from Berkeley City Councilman Gordon Wozniak: '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.' He says a one-hundredth of a cent per e-mail tax could discourage spam while not impacting the typical Internet user, and a sales tax on Internet transactions could help fund 'vital functions that the post office serves.' We all know an e-mail tax is infeasible, and sales tax for online purchases and for digital purchases are likely unavoidable forever, but here's hoping talk of taxing data usage doesn't work its way to Washington."
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City Councilman: Email Tax Could Discourage Spam, Fund Post Office Functions

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  • by dosius (230542) <bridget@buric.co> on Friday March 08, 2013 @10:31AM (#43115389) Journal

    How about not forcing the postal service to keep 75 years' worth of back-funding for pensions?

    -uso.

  • Cute idea (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DogDude (805747) on Friday March 08, 2013 @10:32AM (#43115397) Homepage
    It's a cute idea, but clearly this city councilperson doesn't understand how email works.
  • Re:FP? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 08, 2013 @10:36AM (#43115465)

    No tax ever stays in the advertised form.

    Just in case someone reads this who has not experienced many examples already, consider the US federal income tax. The amendment describes a progressive tax of 1, 2, or 3 percent, and the reason it does not include the original line of "and not to exceed 10 percent" is because the politicians of the day thought that adding such a line would be seen as permission to raise the tax to 10 percent by their successors.

    I have in Real Life(TM) ranted plentifully about road and bridge projects with a toll that were sold as "until the building cost is paid off" but persist many decades after all possible construction expenses had been paid simply because the regional government likes the revenue.

  • Re:Good idea (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pipatron (966506) <pipatron@gmail.com> on Friday March 08, 2013 @10:49AM (#43115595) Homepage

    Like the ISP with google, you fail to remember that everyone with a network connection already pays for this access to their ISP.

    Also, no one ever sends spam from their own computer, what do you think all the hacked windows botnets are used for? This would just make innocent people get smallish extra charges added to their normal ISP bill, and won't cost anything to the senders of spam.

    Best case scenario if they managed to make this stupid idea into reality is that ordinary folks at home will pay more attention to computer security to make sure they won't get charged those extra dollars each month.

  • by serialband (447336) on Friday March 08, 2013 @10:50AM (#43115613)

    That would be true of any November ballots, if students even vote in large enough numbers. June ballots are not affected since students are out of town. The kooks are voted in because the town is full of kooks. A lot of people have settled in and taken root.

  • Better idea (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sparticus789 (2625955) on Friday March 08, 2013 @10:56AM (#43115683) Journal

    How about we levy a $10,000 "tax" for politicians that introduce stupid legislation.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 08, 2013 @11:05AM (#43115771)

    Then suck it up and FULLY fund the pensions and don't depend on a government bail out when they fail to fund it fully.

    We, the taxpayers, are tired of EVERY federal agency offering large pensions that we don't get, that get bailed out every time there is a shortfall forcing OUR retirement to reduce because of corrupt officials. We are not your personal pocketbook to decide how much of our money we should be allowed to keep.

  • Re:FP? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Friday March 08, 2013 @11:10AM (#43115833) Homepage Journal

    All it will do is add $50 to the bill of anyone who gets infected (which is not, of itself, a bad thing...)

    Oh, yes it is - it's an example of victim blaming, [wikipedia.org] and it is a very, very bad thing.

    Not that I disagree with the concept that folks need to be 'incentivized' in order to do things they should be doing anyway, but I don't believe punishing people for being attacked is the right way to go about it.

  • by hessian (467078) on Friday March 08, 2013 @11:22AM (#43115969) Homepage Journal

    I don't think our problem is a lack of revenue; it's bad spending.

    First, government is massively inefficient at every level thanks to the "government job" mentality and the tendency to over-hire bureaucrats.

    Second, many government programs are pure pork barrel designed to appease certain special interest groups or make cronies rich.

    Finally, government is a self-justifying agenda. In order to justify its cost, it needs to constant invent new mission creep in order to give a "legitimate" need for increased and continuing funding.

    Let's do this like we would do in a private business, and get out the red pen and go over the books and cut the fat, not tax people even more. Even if this is a tiny tax, the mental outlook on which we embark with it is a bad precedent and will only get worse.

  • Re:Good idea (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ondelette (253185) <lemire&acm,org> on Friday March 08, 2013 @11:25AM (#43116013) Homepage

    The buggy whip industry died (and is used as a common example because it died) as a result of something better that completely and utterly replaced the horse drawn carriage. Unfortunately, its a bad example to use because often, especially in debates here on Slashdot, the industry being compared has not been replaced either in whole or in part.

    New technology almost never wipes out the old. We still have horse carriages in downtown Montreal. There are still practical reasons to ride a horse: we have cops that do.

    We will still have old school mail as well as old school radio in 20 years. It won't go away. It just becomes less economically important.

  • by serviscope_minor (664417) on Friday March 08, 2013 @11:32AM (#43116111) Journal

    I wouldn't normally reply to an AC, but it's been modded up.

    The list above is moronic. It is wrong for the following reasons:

    No, it was carefully honed through the 90's and I've yet to see a time since about 1998 where any anti spam measure could not be answered by checking a box.

    1) Mailing list etc.: Screw them.

    Okey dokey. Well, I do, and people sign up to my mailing lists. I'm also on a number of tech mailing lists. They work very well and removing them would hamper much online activity.

    2) Collecting money: If the email doesn't have a legal code showing it paid taxes, it gets automatically rejected and sent back to the sender

    And how's that supposed to work? Again, try reading the list: there is no central controlling authority. Let me repeat since you are hearing impaired:

    THERE IS NO CENTRAL CONTROLLING AUTHORITY.

    So, how do you prove it? How will it work internationally? Answer: it won't.

    3) I am a user of email and I not only will put up with it, I WANT it.

    Yep you, and a few other people worldwide. Noone else will bother.

    4) Microsoft has no power or right to stop it.

    Microsoft have immense power due to their size. If Microsoft don't implement it, then it won't happen. If your new email system can't contact people on Outlook/Exchange server, then no one will ever use it.

    5) Why do you think people can't spend 1 cent per hundred email? But anyway, it is not our legal responsibility to make life easy for the incompetent. See answer #1 above. Regulations are a part of business. If you can't comply, then you don't deserve to run the business., or get a job. But honestly, this w

    Because there's no conceivable mechanism whereby charging would work.

    6) We don't need a central authority for emails, we can do it with codes. Pay a tax, get a code number. Email software rejects those without the code.

    So, your solution not requiring a central authority is to have a central code authority. Right.

    And again, who is going to make veryone worldwide make the switch? Which authority will force that? Or, do you want to go offline to everyone outside your country.

    7) Open relays in foreign countries are fine, it doesn't affect those that use the code rejection system

    So foriegn people have to pay a tax to your country (USA?) in order to send them emails? Why would any foreign company adopt that?

    8) Screw the Asshats - and send them to jail for tax crimes

    OK, how do you catch them?

    9)Armies of virus infected window boxes might actually get cleaned up if they were costing the idiots money by spamming

    Indeed they might. But an awful lot of people (voters) are going to get very upset at this legislative solution...

    10) We are reducing the profitability of spammers.

    lol. Let me repeat that: lol.

    11) Technically illiterate politicians are still smarter than YOU and came up with this solution

    So, politicians smarter than me came up with a solution which is completely unworkable. That's very nice.

    12) Saying something should should be free, it doesn't make it so. In fact, it isn't free - it costs the ISPs money every time you send an email, just such a small amount (electricity, electronic upkeep), that they don't charge for it. They should. The fact you don't know this represents your own foolishness.

    It's a philosophical point: the ISPs already charge for data, so that cost is covered. Beyond that, why should some particular peer-to-peer communication be taxed over any other?

    13) This isn't a feel good measure, it actually solves the problem.

    Except it requires (accoriding to you) a server somewhere which dishes out tax codes.

    Your post advocates a (X) technical ( ) legislative ( ) market-based ( ) vigilante approach to fighting spam. Your idea will not work.

    13) This isn't a feel good measure, it actually s

  • by Rude Turnip (49495) <valuation@gma i l .com> on Friday March 08, 2013 @11:33AM (#43116123)

    FedEx uses the post office for many local deliveries. Commercial carriers will not deliver everywhere. This is a national infrastructure issue.

  • Re:Good idea (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 08, 2013 @11:33AM (#43116127)

    Also, no one ever sends spam from their own computer, what do you think all the hacked windows botnets are used for? This would just make innocent people get smallish extra charges added to their normal ISP bill, and won't cost anything to the senders of spam.

    People who put insecure computers on the global network are not innocent. They're negligent. You want to really do something about that problem, start fining them.

    If I put a big truck on the highway and I don't secure my cargo, I get to pay for any damage it does. Same principle. You are responsible for your property and any damage it causes on a shared, public resource.

    I'm sure they can make a convincing puppy-eyes at you. So what? Stop excusing them. The damage they facilitate is very real.

  • Re:Good idea (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bhagwad (1426855) on Friday March 08, 2013 @11:37AM (#43116161) Homepage

    If people really find the postal system so useful they should be willing to pay more for it. This is a solution in search of a problem.

  • Re:Good idea (Score:4, Insightful)

    by tilante (2547392) on Friday March 08, 2013 @11:42AM (#43116223)
    Actually, the packet mail delivery industry isn't suffering. FedEx, UPS, and DHL are all doing fine - it's only the US Postal Service that's having problems. A big part of their problems are caused by government regulation, which many see as being designed to try to get rid of the USPS. See http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2013/03/04/how-the-postal-service-is-being-gutted.aspx [fool.com] for fuller explanations.
  • by Geoffrey.landis (926948) on Friday March 08, 2013 @11:58AM (#43116423) Homepage

    And our tax dollars already go towards the up keep of the internet's infrastructure.

    Ah, I love slashdot, where people simultaneously advocate anarchy, libertarianism, and socialism.

    Yes, that's correct: we pay for the infrastructure with tax dollars (which would be socialism). Also, each person who pays for their connection also pays their ISP (which would be capitalism). This is true. So?

    OK, here's the introduction to economics lecture. As a general rule, economic systems run more efficiently when people pay for the resources that they use, and run inefficiently when other people pay for resources that somebody else uses. Just a general rule to keep in mind.

    Indeed, economic systems do not always run on this model (no, not even in ideal free markets). One example is the "all you can eat buffet." People don't pay proportionally to how much food they, primarily because the cost of the food itself is actually only a small portion of the total cost, and detailed accounting for the food eaten costs more than the trivial economic benefit gained. Yes, you can argue that e-mail is similar to that: the incremental cost of an e-mail (economists would say "marginal cost") is small compared to the cost of just keeping the network alive (however, email by nature goes through a series of computers between the sender and the recipient; so accounting would be less expensive than paying human waiter writing down orders on a pad.)

    But the "all you can take" model relies on the implicit assumption that individual consumers do have a limit. If a semitrailer backs up to the all-you-can-take buffet, loads everything on the buffet into the trailer, and says to the cook "just keep it coming," the model will fail.

    Like most of economics, then, there isn't always one price structure that works for all situations. There's always a trade-off of cost against benefit.

    However, the knee-jerk reaction "put a cost on email! How dare anybody suggest such a thing!" seems a bit extreme. There are advantages in people paying for the resources that they use. There are also problems (which in economics, translates to "costs").

    So, thanks for all the criticism, but I'll stick by what I wrote originally:
    Good idea. Only problem: how could we implement it?

  • Re:Good idea (Score:4, Insightful)

    by arth1 (260657) on Friday March 08, 2013 @12:31PM (#43116859) Homepage Journal

    The Post office managed to have two deliveries a day and one on Saturday for the longest time, profitably. It's not what's killing them.
    Having become seriously top-heavy and over-regulated by bean counters who need to see justifications for all expenses (at costs higher than the expenses) is part of the problem. The bulk e-mail agreements and deals like UPS dropping off packages at the post office and having them deliver it for a pittance is what's killing them.
    I.e. increased commercialization.

    Mail is a utility, and needs to be treated as such. They can't fulfil their obligation to deliver mail if they are also to compete on packages, bulk delivery, and express.
    They need to go back to what they were, and the free market evangelists need to keep their hands in their pockets where utilities are concerned. They can be profitable, but not on a free market.

  • Re:Good idea (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Githaron (2462596) on Friday March 08, 2013 @01:06PM (#43117267)

    I'd have to agree. What we really need to do shift from an address based physical mail to a person based official national email program. Everyone would be given a official email and CAC card. The CAC would be necessary for log in and document signing. The emails would be part of a publicly searchable contact directory. A small artificial cost would be applied to the sender to avoid abuse from advertising/SPAM agencies. All official government correspondence would be sent and received through said email program. Any document signed with the CAC would be seen as legally strong as a physical document signed by a handwritten signature. All libraries would be fitted with document scanners, computers, and CAC readers for those that do not have said equipment at home. Ideally, all government paper forms would be converted to digital forms. All correspondence or notifications could optionally be freely forward to your personal email so that you know when to check your government email.

    As far as the transport of non-message objects goes, we could either have a post office that delivers mail only a couple times a week or simply go completely private (UPS, Fedex, etc.).

  • Re:Good idea (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mjr167 (2477430) on Friday March 08, 2013 @01:32PM (#43117619)

    I pay my ISP a monthly fee to cover the costs of sending my emails. One of the fees on that bill is ... TAX.

    Regardless of the fairness or inconsequential of the tax, the government have no business knowing how many emails I send. For that matter the government has no business knowing pretty much anything about the bits I send.

    Stop trying to prop up dying industries by punishing technological progress.

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