For the past seventeen years, people accessing the Internet could do so without fear of being charged an extra tax just for getting online. But on October 1st of this year that could all change if the U.S. Senate doesn’t pass the Internet Tax Freedom Forever Act (S. 431).
The Act, which states “the Internet has continued to drive economic growth, productivity and innovation since…1998,” and “promotes a nationwide economic environment that facilitates innovation, promotes efficiency, and empowers people to broadly share their ideas,” highlights the Federal Communications Commission’s determination that “cost remains the biggest barrier to consumer broadband adoption.”
Therefore, according to the text of S.431, “Keeping Internet access affordable promotes consumer access to this critical gateway to jobs, education, healthcare, and entrepreneurial opportunities, regardless of race, income, or neighborhood.” As such, this bill permanently extends the ban on internet access taxation as first outlined in the 1998 Internet Tax Freedom Act.
The companion bill, the Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act (H.R. 235), passed in the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this summer without a dissenting vote. But to cross the finish line for permanent enactment, the U.S. Senate must act. Despite the bi-partisan support of 50+ Senators, however, there’s still room for S.431 to fail.
In the current political climate, some fear that the more than 10,000 state and local taxation jurisdictions across the countr itching for new ways to generate revenue will be waiting in the wings to start taxing broadband access service should the Act not pass before the October 1st deadline, just days away.
On average, communications taxes – from cable to wireless service – average between 12-17% nationally, so an imposition of taxes on Internet access could be expected to boost monthly bills by roughly that amount, a charge which will be particularly hard to manage by members of low- and fixed-income communities.
While it’s possible that a short-term extension can be included in a Continuing Resolution as Congress continues to wrangle over budget negotiations, doing so will push this issue squarely into the presidential election cycle, meaning it could get further bogged down by politics while those least able to afford it stare down the clock until their Internet bills go up.
The best solution is for the outstanding members of the U.S. Senate who have yet to join 51 of their colleagues in supporting the Internet Tax Freedom Forever Act, including Senators Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Al Franken, vote in support of this bill before it’s too late.