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Bill 602P - U.S. Postal Tax on Email

Originally posted: 05/22/99

Here's an item straight out of the hoax recycling bin. A "new" email forward claims that the U.S. Postal Service wants to levy a 5-cent federal surcharge on every email delivered within the United States. Far from being new, however, this message has been zipping from modem to modem since May 1999.

A virtually identical message which began circulating one month earlier claimed that exactly the same thing was happening in Canada.

False, in both cases (see comments below).


Dear Internet Subscriber:

Please read the following carefully if you intend to stay online and continue using email: The last few months have revealed an alarming trend in the Government of the United States attempting to quietly push through legislation that will affect your use of the Internet. Under proposed legislation the U.S. Postal Service will be attempting to bilk email users out of "alternate postage fees". Bill 602P will permit the Federal Govt to charge a 5 cent surcharge on every email delivered, by billing Internet Service Providers at source. The consumer would then be billed in turn by the ISP. Washington D.C. lawyer Richard Stepp is working without pay to prevent this legislation from becoming law.

The U.S. Postal Service is claiming that lost revenue due to the proliferation of email is costing nearly $230,000,000 in revenue per year. You may have noticed their recent ad campaign "There is nothing like a letter". Since the average citizen received about 10 pieces of email per day in 1998, the cost to the typical individual would be an additional 50 cents per day, or over $180 dollars per year, above and beyond their regular Internet costs. Note that this would be money paid directly to the U.S. Postal Service for a service they do not even provide. The whole point of the Internet is democracy and non-interference. If the federal government is permitted to tamper with our liberties by adding a surcharge to email, who knows where it will end. You are already paying an exorbitant price for snail mail because of bureacratic efficiency. It currently takes up to 6 days for a letter to be delivered from New York to Buffalo. If the U.S. Postal Service is allowed to tinker with email, it will mark the end of the "free" Internet in the United States. One congressman, Tony Schnell (r) has even suggested a "twenty to forty dollar per month surcharge on all Internet service" above and beyond the government's proposed email charges. Note that most of the major newspapers have ignored the story, the only exception being the Washingtonian which called the idea of email surcharge "a useful concept who's time has come" March 6th 1999 Editorial) Don't sit by and watch your freedoms erode away!

Send this email to all Americans on your list and tell your friends and relatives to write to their congressman and say "No!" to Bill 602P.

Kate Turner Assistant to Richard Stepp, Berger, Stepp and Gorman Attorneys at Law 216 Concorde Street, Vienna, Va.

Comments:  Compare the above to the Canadian version of April 1999. It's the same message. Some unknown prankster merely localized the original for U.S. consumption by replacing Canadian references with United States equivalents. No points for cleverness or originality there.

Here's an excerpt from the U.S. Postal Service's published response:

A completely false rumor concerning the U.S. Postal Service is being circulated over the Internet via e-mail.

The e-mail message claims that a "Congressman Schnell" has introduced "Bill 602P" to allow the federal government to impose a 5-cent surcharge on each e-mail message delivered over the Internet. The money would be collected by Internet Service Providers and then turned over to the Postal Service.

No such proposed legislation exists. In fact, no "Congressman Schnell" exists.

Media Sightings

US Postal Service:
'Email rumor completely untrue'

The Washingtonian:
'Email hoax'

CNET News.com:
'Email hoax clutters lawmakers' inboxes'

Roy Betts, manager of media relations for the Postal Service, put it more bluntly in person: "It's obviously a hoax."

Er... evidently not so obviously to those who keep forwarding the rumor to everyone in their address book. Those tempted to believe this nonsense should visit the Library of Congress Website and search House bills for "Bill 602P" (hint: that's not even how House bills are numbered). Or examine the List of Representatives for a "Congressman Tony Schnell."

You won't find them, because they don't exist. Moreover, at least one bonafide U.S. Congressman has issued a statement decrying the "Internet tax" as a hoax.

The Washingtonian, which the email claims published an editorial supporting the tax proposal, has also issued a disavowal.

Rumors of rate hikes or surcharges for Internet access, no matter how preposterous, never fail to generate hysteria among rank and file users. Witness the furor over the similar modem tax legend of a decade ago, or the more recent per-minute access charge rumors that have swamped the FCC's offices with protests in recent years.

Update: Protests Result in Congressional Action - Ironically, the U.S. House of Representatives, reacting to calls, letters and emails protesting the nonexistent "Bill 602P" over the past year, passed a real bill in May 2000 prohibiting such a tax from ever being enacted. See "House Outlaws an Urban Legend" from the Industry Standard, May 17, 2000.

Update: 'Bill 602P' Dupes Debaters in N.Y. Senate Race - Clinton and Lazio unknowingly debated the nonexistent proposal on October 8, 2000. (If it's any consolation, they're both against it.)  See "Email Tax Hoax Fouls N.Y. Senate Debate."



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