Commentary

The Internet Is Not an ATM

NetChoice, a DC-based lobby that variously calls itself "an advocacy organization" or "a coalition of trade associations" says it "fights threats to online commerce and promotes policies that protect Internet innovation and communication on a state, federal and international basis." Its members appear to include among others, Time's AOL; NewsCorp; eBay, and perhaps most important, The Wine Institute.

This week NetChoice issued The Internet Advocates' Watchlist For Ugly Laws (iAWFUL) which purports to identify America's 10 worst legislative and regulatory proposals targeted at the Internet. Among them: a bill in North Carolina that would create a tax for event tickets resold specifically on the Internet; a second North Carolina bill that would tax the purchase of digital music, movies and other content and a New York bill that would tax online job-seeking and résumé services, even though services offered by traditional headhunters are not taxed in the state.

Topping the inaugural iAWFUL list is a New Jersey Social Networking Bill which would require the operators of social networking sites to aggressively police their users, something that NetChoice says would "stifle the free exchange of information and communication on social networking sites."

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Isn't is comforting to know that after power-playing that may lock up the New York State budget, mulling sending California into bankruptcy (something that hasn't happened since about 1840), checking up on failing local and state banks and dodging investigations into their personal and professional behavior, our elected ones have plenty of time to think up ways to make a couple of bucks off internet commerce? After all, the internet is that place that runs pictures of their carnal extramarital assignations, tracks their limp-dick voting records and legislative proposals and provides a safe haven for all manner of predator, scam artist, terrorist and half brother of the Nigerian oil minister. It is easy pickin's.

But our representatives are showing absolutely no creativity with a tax here and a tax there. Why not hop on the Chinese dragon and mandate that all future computers sold in the nation have preinstalled software which will allow the government to block access to any content that pisses them off? Since internet connectivity is at an all time high, why not make the ISPs give up the personal identifications of all subscribers so if they do something offensive on line from opining against idiotic legislators to downloading David Spade movies (something that should result in life imprisonment from my perspective) or forwarding "heart warming" stories by e mail.

How about a special tax on: automated birthday greetings; blurry or badly lit self-made porn films; e mails that start with a question; blogs that haven't been updated in the past week; PowerPoints that contain the word "transparent"; links to videos that aren't worth the diversion; sites devoted to newborns, graduates or pets; any use of exclamation points or ALL CAPS; any ad that offers you more of anything or, for that matter, less of anything; condolences that by all rights should be committed to paper and put in an envelope; any and all political fund raising email and sites (now there IS a good idea)?

The Internet has worked just fine without any interference from local, state and federal governments. Resist the temptation to screw it up like you have education, mass transit and infrastructure. Go find your pork in somebody else's barrel.

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