Scary Politics and the Internet's Future

By Schulman, Sandy | Information Today, December 1998 | Go to article overview

Scary Politics and the Internet's Future


Schulman, Sandy, Information Today


Sandy Schulman is director of marketing at Comtex Scientific Corporation in Alexandria, VA. She can be reached at sschulman@comtexnews.com or sandy schu@aol.com.

Although there'll be no taxes for 3 years, will we pay in the long run?

It is clear that a number of recent actions by our nation's lawmakers are going to have a tremendous impact on the vendors in our industry and, thus, ourselves. This past October I attended a session at Internet World that was sponsored by the Association for Interactive Media (AIM; http://www.interactivehq.org) and was entitled "Politics and the Internet." The mission of AIM--an independent subsidiary of the Direct Marketing Association--is to lobby for the interests of the Internet community. The interests of the Internet community are closely aligned with those of the library community, including open global access and shared information.

Internet World

The first day's seminar began with remarks from Andy Sernovitz, president of AIM, concerning the passage of recent legislation--specifically, the Internet Tax Freedom Act and Amendments. Of the comments Sernovitz made, two resonated loudly for me: "To get no taxes, we got censorship," and "No other industry has ever been nailed this badly in one day."

To summarize, Sernovitz said that because we (the Internet industry, and all of those deeply connected to it) naively believed that government couldn't possibly regulate the vastness of what is the Internet, we didn't take seriously the threat of government regulation. We didn't work hard enough to stop the attachments to the Internet Tax Freedom Act. This legislation creates a 3-year moratorium on Internet access taxes. The add-ons are what brought us the issues of censorship and government intervention in the way Internet business is conducted.

Corporate libraries are business centers. How will this turn of events impact your library system (administration and costs), and how will it impact your company's business? It will leave its mark, there's no doubt about that.

A New Era

The popular part of the recent bill is the moratorium on Internet taxes for the next 3 years, along with preventing local governments from charging value-added taxes for at least 3 years. During this respite there will be committees investigating all aspects of the Internet tax question. It's probably a safe bet to conclude that the investigations will lead to recommendations for Internet taxes of some kind, and any kind of tax will go directly to the bottom line of a library's systems budget. Will Web sites have to develop special software to determine which visitors are tax-exempt and which aren't? Will the development costs be passed along in the cost of the product or service? Presumably. If you're a public institution, will nonprofit tax status apply when your patrons are using your internet access connection to conduct their own for-profit business? Even if it's decided that libraries will be exempt from some or all new Internet taxes, there will be a cost to libraries in time and understanding to prep are paperwork for tracking your exemptions.

One of the add-ons that passed with the above is the Communications Decency Act. On the surface, a very noble-sounding endeavor. After all, who is against protecting the interests of children? Virtually no one. It's illegal to put content on the Internet that's a risk to children. One of the problems is that there's disagreement as to what is a risk to children and what isn't. Therefore, a publisher puts content on its site at the publisher's own risk. Is your library's Web site risk-free? If you're a corporate site administrator, is there anything available on your company site that's a risk to children? …

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