"The move to a new economy should be matched by consideration of a new tax base, a tax base that is growing.... Why not examine a possible tax on the digital traffic of the Information Highway?"
President Clinton and Congress responded the next year by enacting the Internet Tax Freedom Act banning any taxation of bits or email. The act is scheduled to expire next year, but most likely will be extended. Washington politicians, after all, hire other people — on the taxpayers' dime — to handle their spam.
I phoned Cordell in Ottawa, where he's a professor at Carleton University.
He's still pushing a bit tax. "It's needed more than ever as we get rid of brick and mortar stuff," he said, adding: "We're wealthier as a society than we think we are because so much stuff is free. I use Google all day long....
"We're passing up a great source of taxation. It's out there, and it's not going away. Eventually it's going to happen."
"Email would be easy to tax," he continued. "The Internet service provider could bill it."
Wozniak says he's through pushing it. "I'm not going to do any more than what I've done. It's not something the City of Berkeley can do on its own."
Here's how I'd set it up:
Emailing within a company would be tax-free. I'd allow everyone a certain number of untaxed, private emails a month — 100, maybe 200. After that, each message would cost one cent, up to a certain size. If they ran off the screen, they'd cost extra — just as a bulky letter costs more than a 46-cent stamp.
After 500 emails, the fare would be hiked to 2 cents to discourage the junk-mailers. Copy 500 people on one message, that's 500 emails.
Probably 99% of us wouldn't pay much tax at all.
I don't know how many emails are tapped out daily in California or the U.S. But it's estimated that 204 million are sent worldwide every minute — 145 billion a day.
It just seems like most are landing in my inbox.
Cellphones are taxed. Email should be too — to save it from the spammers and scammers.