Leahy supports extending ban on Internet access taxes

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(Host) Senator Patrick Leahy says he wants Congress to extend its current ban on Internet access taxes.

Leahy says the Internet would be less accessible to some Americans if states and municipalities could tax it.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) In Washington, D.C., Pat Leahy is known as the "cyber senator" because he embraced the opportunities of the Internet long before it was fashionable.

In this role, Leahy has been a strong opponent of efforts to allow states, counties or individual municipalities to impose a tax on the technology that’s used to connect consumers to the Internet.

The proposed tax would be similar to surcharges that many people have on their telephone bills.

Nine years ago, Congress passed legislation that bans the taxation of Internet technology. It’s set to expire at the end of this month and Leahy thinks it’s critical to extend it.

(Leahy) "The idea of every single municipality, every state, every jurisdiction is going to have a separate tax, you’re not going to be able to even carry out business because you could have as many as 20 or 30 taxes on the thing. Much of what we do with education, travel, families getting information back and forth on the Internet. You start taxing that, it’s going to ruin it."

(Kinzel) Leahy says the proliferation of telephone surcharges demonstrates why it’s a bad idea to apply this tax policy to Internet technology.

(Leahy) "I think the phone companies are an example of how, in many instances, they’re actually ripping people off with surtaxes for things that nobody can figure out what the surtax is."

(Kinzel) Some states are looking at the Internet technology tax as a source of new revenue. Governor Jim Douglas is not.

(Douglas) "I think access to the Internet ought to be free. We need to encourage more people to take advantage of 21st century technology for their own safety, for their convenience and, of course, for commercial purposes as our economy changes and becomes more global."

(Kinzel) Douglas says allowing states to impose a sales tax on Internet purchases is a totally different situation. Vermont has joined with a group of other states to adopt uniform sales tax policies in exchange for the authority to tax Internet commerce.

(Douglas) "We’re headed toward leveling the playing field so that the store down the street, the long standing local businesses that we have in our state – and other states do, as well, aren’t disadvantaged and forced out of business because of unfair competition. I think that is entirely fair."

(Kinzel) Opponents of the Internet technology tax are hoping to pass a permanent ban in the next few weeks. But it’s possible that they may only have the votes to extend the current ban for a short period of time.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.


AP Photo/Toby Talbot

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