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Bill Clinton killed off internet taxes, says Australian politician

Former federal treasurer's back-of-envelope maths says world's missed BEELLIONS

By Richard Chirgwin, 8 Mar 2016

Former Australian federal treasurer from the 1990s Peter Costello reckons the world passed up on a huge revenue source when it decided not to tax the Internet.

Exactly how such a tax would have worked isn't explained, but in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, given as a soft profile to celebrate him assuming the role of chairman of Australian television broadcaster Nine Network, Costello reckons the idea was kiboshed by then US president Bill Clinton.

Costello doesn't put a figure on what “taxing the Internet” would have raised, preferring the Australian idiom “a motza”.

“It would have been the easiest thing in the world, by the way, for governments around the world to have put a charge on the Internet”, he told the newspaper.

Even though it would have been the “easiest thing in the world”, Costello continues that it “would have been hard to police, but once Bill Clinton came out and said the Internet would be free that was it”.

Even a “fraction of a cent a year” Internet access tax, Costello reckons, would have “raised governments an unbelievable amount of money”.

Readers with long memories may remember that Costello shared the cabinet table with former telecommunications minister Richard Alston, known to El Reg as the World's Biggest Luddite for his belief that broadband was only useful for gambling and porn.

In particular, in light of his interest in the Nine Network, Costello is affronted that Apple, iTunes (which he seems to think is a distinct entity from Cupertino) and Google are “all delivering product through an untaxed medium”. He's not alone in that assessment: Australia recently introduced a bill to compel online retailers to collect local sales taxes, even if they deliver their product from offshore.

Costello's also being reasonably fair because Australian television networks have to pay a license fee for the spectrum they use.

Vulture South notes that even with 20 million 'net accounts in Australia in 2016, a "fraction of a cent" a year access tax only amounts to a few million dollars annually. ®

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