The Senate voted Thursday to bar permanently state and local governments from taxing access to the Internet, something Congress has prevented repeatedly before but only on a temporary basis.
It passed 75-20 as part of a customs enforcement measure that already cleared the House and will now go to President Barack Obama for his expected signature. Some of the no votes were directed at the underlying customs bill, a trade measure opposed by many Democrats.
Not included in the bill Thursday was a separate measure that would allow state and local officials to require online retailers like Amazon to collect and pay sales tax, just as brick and mortar stores are required to do. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised Democrats he would allow a vote later this year on that issue.
Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee is one of three GOP senators who voted against the bill.
“The federal government shouldn’t be telling the states what their tax structure should be,” he told reporters after the vote.
But most senators agreed that such taxes could put the Internet out of reach for some people, especially those with low incomes.
“The Internet is a resource used daily by Americans of all ages across the country,” McConnell said before the vote. “It’s important that they be able to do all of this without the worry of their Internet taxes being taxed.”
“Right now most Americans pay $0 in taxes to connect to the Internet,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon. “And thanks to a bill that passed today, you will never have to pay taxes just to get online, or pay more taxes for goods and services just because they’re bought online.”
While supporters are touting the permanency of the ban, it is also true that any law can be undone by a future Congress. However, the strong support for the ban reflected in the vote suggests there is not much support for taxing access to the Internet.
By Ted Barrett, CNN