Democrats fail (at least for now) to protect Net users from taxes

Democrats have had since January to schedule a vote on a bill that would protect Internet users from access taxes. They still haven't done so, and a temporary moratorium expires in just a few weeks.

Declan McCullagh Former Senior Writer
Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.
Declan McCullagh
3 min read

Democrats in the U.S. Congress failed on Thursday to protect Internet users from higher taxes.

The Senate Commerce committee, chaired by Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), mysteriously killed a vote on an Internet tax bill that was supposed to take place at 2:30 p.m. ET. With a laugh but no explanation, Inouye simply told the hearing room it wasn't going to happen.

Normally postponements of votes would be mere congressional background noise. This is different because, as we wrote about earlier this month, a temporary federal moratorium on Internet access taxes expires on November 1.

If a lackadaisical Congress does nothing, in other words, Americans soon are likely to be paying more to local governments for the privilege of buying DSL and cable modem service. (These are some of the same local governments that have adopted as their motto: "If it exists, tax it. And then tax it some more.")

Time's running out. Sen. John Sununu, a New Hampshire Republican who does support renewing the moratorium, made a good point in a statement after the nonvote: "We introduced a bill to permanently ban Internet access taxes back in January. I just don't understand the continued delay in action. The clock continues to tick, placing Internet tax freedom in real jeopardy."

You can blame the Democrats for this state of affairs. Not all of them in the Congress, to be sure, but if this was a priority for the Democratic leadership, Majority Leader Harry Reid would make this happen post-haste. John Conyers, a key Democrat in the House of Representatives, finally got around to introducing legislation called the "Internet Tax Freedom Act Amendments Act of 2007" on Thursday that generally offers a four-year extension.

While Inouye's office didn't respond to a request for comment on Thursday, one explanation is the continued tension between folks who want the moratorium made permanent and lobbyists like the National Governors Association who are willing to accept only a temporary extension. The bill that was supposed to receive a vote, S. 1453, includes only a four-year extension.

Mike Wendy, a representative of the CompTIA technology trade association, told me afterward: "We would like to see it permanent. But we recognize how legislation works and so we'll certainly take whatever we can get. We had anticipated on the Senate side we'd see a four year extension. That's better than lapsing."

That's true, I suppose, but that's not saying much. If the Democrats can rush a hasty, ill-considered and perhaps even unconstitutional wiretapping law into effect in just a few days last month, why can't they take a few minutes to schedule a vote that would actually protect Internet users for a change?

Update 9:14 a.m. PDT Friday: This odd statement--it's odd because it was his decision to postpone the vote--from Inouye's office arrived in my in-box this morning: "I am disappointed that the Commerce Committee was unable to act on legislation to extend the Internet tax moratorium at today's markup. But after discussions with my colleagues, I believe that further negotiations are warranted. It is my hope that a reasonable compromise can be reached and that the Committee will be able to take swift action in the future."