Letter: Spam and Free Speech

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As many of you have found out, a spam filter eliminates some of the good along with most of the bad. So rather than filter and lose the good, why not take another approach. Let the feds place a 2-cent tax on every e-mail message.

For "legitimate" personal and business e-mail users, it would be added to their telephone bills. For spammers and other mass e-users, the tax would have to be paid in advance, just as we pay the post office before it accepts mass mailings. This way, 100,000 e-mails with substantially the same message cost $2,000. A million e-mails cost $20,000. And the business that sends a message to 250 staff members pays $5. If it isn't worth that, how necessary can the message be?

If the objection is a restraint on "free speech," may I, a five-decades advertising pro and sometimes lecturer in political philosophy, suggest a review of what "free" and "restraint" mean in the constitutional context. (Though we may not shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater, in case of an actual fire I suspect we may.) "Free," when it goes beyond personal, face-to-face communication, has never been "without cost." Whether it meant the distribution of news by print or by the earliest systems of mail, telegraph or phone, someone had to pay.

What is said is almost always without restraint. How that message is delivered almost always costs the sender. And just think of the advantage of knowing your kids are sending hundreds of e-mails a month when they should be doing their homework. Just deduct the cost from their allowance and watch their grades improve!

Also, as one of the few marketing consultants who has, from its start, urged the taxing of Internet retail commerce, let me again propose my plan for making this practical and inexpensive for all concerned. Any state that wishes to collect such a tax must establish a single Internet tax for its state. Internet sellers must keep a record of the tax charged by ZIP code - something their computer can do easily - and send a quarterly payment, and its ZIP code distribution, to those states.

States then take out their share and distribute the rest to their communities. States that do not establish such a single tax collect nothing. If much less will be collected than the states and their retailers think, fine! But I suspect that something will be better than nothing, and maybe you can even shut us up.

Fred Hahn, President, Fred Hahn Associates



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