Randy Forbes: Keep Internet access tax free

randy forbesThink about how you use the Internet every day.  You probably use it to check your emails, and to shop for the upcoming holidays. You use it to pay bills, to look up restaurant reviews, or to book flights. Maybe you use it to connect with friends via social media. Maybe it’s the primary way you keep up with the news, or your favorite sports team. Maybe you’ve used the Internet to search for and apply for jobs. Your children have probably used it to research for school papers, and maybe apply for scholarships. Perhaps you’ve used it to file taxes, or to pay your city or county vehicle registration. Maybe you use it to contact your elected representatives.

The Internet has expanded beyond a tool of discovery that connects people across the world and has become an indispensable tool to help people manage their daily lives, run their businesses, and keep our cities, states, and nation operating. It’s an important channel for news and a platform for national discourse.  In fact, every day my office receives hundreds of emails from constituents who share their thoughts, ideas, and opinions with me.

Now, if you pull out your most recent cable and telephone bill and look closely, you’ll likely see a long list of access taxes for your phone. However, you will not see that same long list of fees for your internet service. That’s because Internet access has been tax free since 1998 when Congress passed an Internet access tax moratorium into law. The law has been renewed every few years since, banning taxes from being collected to simply go online. But every time the moratorium reaches its expiration date, the potential for a taxed Internet returns.

As the Internet has grown into a critical resource, it has become even more important that access to the Internet remain unencumbered by taxes. Broadband Internet access is already expensive for many American families, especially families who live in rural areas. Adding a new tax on Internet access is an additional expense families don’t want or need. Traditional telecommunications services are often taxed at a higher rate than other goods and services: research by the Tax Foundation states that, nationwide, the average American pays about 17 percent in combined federal, state, and local government wireless taxes and fees each month on their phone bill (it’s around 12 percent in Virginia when you combine federal, state, and local taxes and fees). These taxes are not only frustrating because they are a burden on everyday Americans and entrepreneurs, but also frustrating because it seems every level of government is putting a tax on an essential service. This is not what we want for the Internet –but the same hikes could happen if the ban on Internet access taxes is lifted.

At the end of the day, it’s not just about Internet access taxes, or any single tax – it’s about the cumulative weight of all the taxes we pay, a weight that is heavy to carry for many Americans who are not just trying to get ahead, but trying to get beyond the grind of living paycheck-to-paycheck. I also believe that government – at all levels – has to stop layering taxes on everything citizens own or use – like those who want to tax Internet access. That’s why I’ve been working to protect American taxpayers, with commonsense steps like scrapping the tax code and starting over, so we can reintroduce a little rationality back into the way our taxes work. On the issue of the Internet access tax, there is a simple solution: make the ban on Internet access taxes permanent.

Just a few months ago, the House of Representatives unanimously passed the Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act (H.R. 235). The legislation, which I cosponsored, permanently bans state and local governments from taxing Internet access, ensuring that Americans can continue to access the Internet tax free. It also prevents them from placing multiple or discriminatory taxes on e-commerce. (To be clear, this issue is not related to the Internet sales tax. Rather, this addresses a separate tax for Internet access). The bill now awaits a vote from the Senate.

This is a simple step, but it’s meaningful. Americans are hit with taxes from the moment we wake, to the moment we go to sleep. We should be looking for every opportunity to prevent Uncle Sam’s overreach into American pocketbooks. Steps like this help us continue to draw a line in the sand, forcing Washington to change its hand on taxes.

Randy Forbes represents the Fourth District of Virginia in Congress.

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