The News & Observer

January 24, 2000

Stump the geeks

Section: Connect
Edition: Final
Page: D6
Estimated Printed Pages: 3

Article Text:

Q. - I received an e-mail from a friend, but have been unable to find any articles to confirm this: There is a vote coming up in Congress to allow Internet companies to charge fees for e-mails, especially long-distance. Is there any truth to this ugly rumor?

Thank you for any information you can provide.

Rodney Cotten


A. - What you are alluding to is a recent update of one of the Internet's longest lasting urban legends. The rumor - formerly known as the "Modem Tax" rumor - was reborn as the "E-mail Tax" rumor in April of 1999.

This version of the legend flew down from Canada, like a wild goose, where it warned about a nonexistent bill in that cold country's Parliament. Soon the Canadian references were changed to U.S. ones and it began to make the rounds here.

The standard version of this message says that there will be a 5-cent tax on each e-mail payable to the U.S. Postal Service, citing a "Bill 602P." There is no such bill. Our Congress doesn't name their bills in such a manner. And the people mentioned in the e-mail usually do not exist.

You can see several versions of the original e-mails at the Urban Legends site ( as well as a very nice write-up debunking the rumor at

But you need not trust me or the Urban Legends site; you can check out legislative rumors yourself, thanks to the Library of Congress' Thomas system ( There you can easily search for bills by their bill number or by keywords found within the bills themselves. Thomas lets you track a bill's status effectively. It also helps you find representatives and committee members as well as providing a wonderful and useful way to learn about how our representative democracy works.

If you are looking for telecommunications bills in particular, you can go directly to

Of particular interest to you will be the following:

- S.1043, a bill to provide freedom from regulation by the Federal Communications Commission for the Internet.

- H.R.2420, a bill to deregulate the Internet and high-speed data services, and for other purposes.

- H. CON. RES. 179, which expresses the sense of Congress regarding the United Nations and global taxation. The sense is that the United States is against any global tax and against "Bit Taxes," taxes on the number of bits of information flowing across international boundaries.

California Republican Christopher Cox was author of the Global Internet Tax Freedom Law, which was passed by the House in October 1999 and by the Senate on Nov. 19, 1999. "This initiative takes the principle of the Internet Tax Freedom Act - that information should not be taxed - and extends it to the international arena," said Cox, who is also House Policy Chairman. The bill, like the H. CON. RES 179, was a reaction to talk in the United Nations about global Internet taxes.

An earlier Internet Tax Freedom Act was passed in October 1998. This bill established a three-year moratorium on any taxes on Internet access and on multiple or discriminatory taxes on e-commerce. It also established the Advisory Commission on Electronic Commerce, the membership of which makes this geek twitch a bit. Members include the presidents of America Online, Time Warner, Charles Schwab and Gateway, along with the chairman of AT&T.

The governors of Virginia and Utah are also on the commission, but no netizen advocacy groups are members. You can learn about the commission at

Vertex provides Internet and e-commerce tax information on a state-by-state basis via its "Taxcybrary's CyberTax Channel." Despite having a name that is better suited for a Pokemon character, it is a valuable resource. Go to

When you receive e-mail warnings, it's always best to try to verify them - even if they come from a very close and usually highly clued friend. The most common virus spread on the Internet is the "gullibility virus." Don't pass it on ( virus/gullibility.html).

Paul Jones,

director MetaLab, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


If you have a question, send e-mail to Include your name, e-mail address and a daytime phone number.

Copyright 2000 by The News & Observer Pub. Co.

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