Taxing email? We can’t make this stuff up!

Just in case you haven’t managed to fully comprehend the meaning of the word “sequester” over the last few months – and years, really – of partisan bickering, it has massive financial implications for the entire country, and more importantly, Berkeley. While Mitt Romney’s favorite “Sesame Street” hasn’t been put to rest, – yet – many people including Berkeley City Councilmember Gordon Wozniak are scrounging for cash to fund the programs they so love. We wouldn’t dare bore you with the financial jargon and technical details, partly because we can’t get through the dense material ourselves, but we’d like to draw your attention to one service in particular: the United States Postal Service.

The good old USPS has been around for … well technically by name, only a little over thirty years. But of course, it has traced its roots to the formation of the country. Most Cal students have an inherent appreciation for the USPS, the entity that makes online shopping and pseudo-doorstep delivery possible. The postmaster general has already planned the destruction of next-day delivery – tragic for all Netflix subscribers and wants to add an entire cent to the fare of first-class mail. If that failed engineering test had you on the verge of dropping out of Cal to become a mailman, think again. Almost 100,000 people are going to be getting the proverbial axe soon enough. And all of that was before the sequester, which would likely result in the doomsday scenario: more cuts from government funding.

Though these are stressful times for the USPS indeed, the aforementioned Wozniak has appeared to let the stress get the better of him. His genius proposal: a tax on email. Totalitarian mutterings aside, Wozniak has proposed that each bit – or little piece of data, for all you non-computer science majors out there – have a fee attached to it. To give you a comparison spectrum, your average Microsoft Word document would take upwards of 200,000 of those little guys. Now, the tax being proposed is by no means outlandish: a cent per gigabit, which is a billion bytes. Though the average reader may cringe at the very idea of having a tax on something they have come to acknowledge as a birthright, it’s not actually quite so bad by the numbers. On average, your Gmail account is capable of storing 10 gigabytes. So assume you were to fill your whole email account within the span of a year – which most people probably won’t manage within five years, let alone one – you’d still only be coughing up 80 cents, which is probably your daily allotment to that nice homeless lady down the street.

Of course, when the scale is adjusted to a national level, where millions of people and companies with large list-servers use email services, the profits could be monumental. Not to mention that it would have the side benefit of stopping those annoying penis enlargement advertisements that somehow manage to get through your spam filter every now and then. A lot of this collective revenue would go back to the real American way of doing things – by paper and pen, through the real airwaves rather than the virtual ones.

There has been a large backlash to this idea, for many reasons. Not only is something like this prohibited under Clinton’s Internet Tax Freedom Act – which has a lifespan until late 2014 – it’s near impossible to enforce. And this could be a “gateway” policy: what’s to stop an eventual tax on AIM, or god forbid, Facebook messages? How dare you, Wozniak? They may take our money, but they’ll never take our Facebook accounts!

Follow Uday on Twitter at @mehtakid

Image source: Warner Bros.