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UN proposes email tax

14 July 1999

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It was five years ago today... A tax on email to improve the lot of those less fortunate than ourselves? It's either a very bright idea or the product of some seriously fantasist thinking:

UN proposes email tax

By Tony Smith
Published Wednesday 14th July 1999 11:46 GMT

The United Nations wants email users to subsidise the extension of the Internet to Third World countries, according to a report released by the UN Development Programme earlier this week.

Essentially, the report calls on governments to introduce legislation that would require Net users to pay a tax of one US cent on every 100 emails they send. Such is the volume of email that, had such a scheme been introduced in 1996, it would have generated $70 billion in that year alone. Given the quantity of spam we're now all being subjected to, the mind boggles at how much revenue would be generated now.

Whatever funds were generated, however, it would be enough to give developing countries the help they need to catch up with developed nations and so "offset inequalities in the global community", as the report puts it. A worthy goal, for sure, but we can't help wondering whether the real winners here would be the telecoms companies who would be contracted to create all these extra connections.

However, the report argues that leaving the expansion of the Net into the Third World to market forces will simply not allow the technology to spread far enough sufficiently quickly. Still, the report admits the UN can't enforce such a tax itself, and with most Western governments keen to encourage Net use in order to promote their countries as preferred territories for e-business, they're unlikely to introduce such a tax unilaterally.


Our experts predict that were such a tax introduced today, then the revenue generated by penis enlargement spam emails alone would be enough to buy a laptop for every child in the developing world, leaving the $90bn per year harvested from 419 junk mail to completely eradicate poverty and disease by 2010. Time, we feel, to reconsider this radical proposal. ®

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