Tuesday, May 26, 2009
The New York Times Idea of the Day: The Case for Taxing Email:
Today’s idea: A tax on e-mail would stem the deluge of spam — and both free up and help pay for the bandwidth that the Internet needs to grow.
The idea is from the British magazine Prospect: We Need an eMail Tax: A Penny Charge for Every eMail Would Stop Spam, and Fill the Empty Public Purse, by Edward Gottesman:
The time has come for a public sector remedy: a tax, perhaps no more than 2p, or 3c, on every email sent. Opponents will argue that collecting the tax is impossible or unfair. Yet the status quo is unworkable. Since early 2007 the global volume of spam has more than trebled. To stop this blizzard of unwanted messages, ISPs and most large businesses spend a sizeable chunk of their IT budget filtering out obvious junk. Despite this, most of us spend time each day clicking “delete”—and the deluge is getting worse. A unit tax on email would stop most spam. A peddler sending 1m messages a day hawking cross-border pharmaceuticals, for instance, would have to balance the uncertain revenues against the tax cost of £100,000 or $150,000 a week. Trying to con people out of money or their bank password would become a risky gamble. ...
Is there a downside? Like any excise tax, the move might be considered regressive. But for most users the cost would be offset by the ongoing falls in the price of broadband itself. The growth of blogs and social networks should head off claims that the tax would strangle internet freedom, as user-initiated website access will be unaffected. Above all, an email tax could safeguard the future of the internet itself. Peer-to-peer data transfers, video streaming and voice services like Skype demand ever greater bandwidth. When new capacity is needed, part of the tax proceeds could be used for investment. Best of all, the spam tax would remind us of a basic rule: pay for what you value. Email, like clean water and air, is not free. We may have a greater respect for our thoughts if we remember that sending them has a price.
(Hat Tip: Amitrai Barth.)