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Taxes to Caesar

Why anyone would let themselves be persuaded to get-up at four-thirty in the morning, is a mystery, unless of course it happens to involve breakfast television.

Last week, my ego got the better of my desire for a good night’s sleep and I found myself challenging Gartner’s optimism, as I reviewed IBM’s latest set of results, which like Microsoft’s were rather better than expected in a week which saw the value of the FTSE and Wall Street indices dip and dive more energetically than ever.

“Is the technology sector showing signs of coming out of recession?” asked my interviewer. Biting my tongue, I offered a polite no but with some examples.

In a period of seven days, nine people I know have lost their jobs and one, who lost his, last November, as the Server Marketing Manager for a ‘Big Iron’ company, has found a new one. Two more people, I know, one being the Managing Director of a high-profile public sector failure, have emailed me, asking if I know of any opportunities and a second Managing Director of a well-known IT services company, has gone on zero salary to set an example, having cut 60% of his staff this year. “Nobody is buying or making decisions” he said and he deals with some of the largest companies in the city.

I could go on but it’s a catalogue of despair and fails to suggest any reason why people might expect an upturn in the market this quarter. A year ago, I recall there were other survey’s which suggested that mid-2002 would show signs of recovery and if you’ve seen any sign of this, please let me know.

From time to time, I’m told that people in government dip into this column, so if you’re reading it today, I can tell you that I’m being asked why this bloodletting in the IT industry isn’t showing through in the unemployment figures? Worse still perhaps, are the consequences for the government’s corporation tax revenues. There’s a not so hidden recession at work here, the country is floating on an ocean of debt and business confidence, in my experience at least, is falling through the floor.

Meanwhile, government, with the help of the BBC, appears to be trying to balance the predicted shortfall in tax revenues by raising the television license to £112. "It's a tax", agreed the nice young lady in TV licensing when I protested. You may remember that following Jonathan Miller’s well-publicized struggle against the license fee as a violation of his human rights, I asked how it’s possible to reconcile watching television on a PC with the law as it stands. One of our readers, law lecturer, Lindsay Stirton, who saw my earlier “Thought for the Day”, is challenging his students to determine whether the BBC’s RealMedia streamed Newsnight show is a television programme, because the identical content is also broadcast to air as a television programme?

Turning the argument around on its head and with a million people now allegedly using broadband Internet access, perhaps government should simply scrap the East-enders tax and consider taxing Internet access instead?. This isn’t as crazy as it sounds. After all, I have two TV licenses and have to own a radio license for my small aircraft.

I would like to think that ultimately, public protest and common-sense will prevail over the continued existence of that sinister Orwellian legacy, the television license and by then, at least 60% of the UK population will be on the World Wide Web.

Lindsay Stirton comments "Reading this article, what is interesting is the claim that 'it's a tax' may be significant, because in UK constitutional theory only Parliament (and not the Minister for Culture, Media and Sport nor the BBC) can levy taxes. There is a legal difference between taxes and charges. But the more the regulations broaden the definition of 'television receiving equipment' to include internet-enabled pcs, the more it starts to look like a tax in the constitutional sense".

"Complicating the matter further, there is a category known as a 'revenue claim' which is broader than a tax. Revenue claims of one state are not enforceable within another state. Could this be why the BBC only require UK-based surfers to get a TV license to watch Paxman with RealPlayer?".

For all the generous political talk of a digital Britain and a wired society there’s a huge cost involved to the Treasury in achieving the changes that now surround us. Historically, new inventions are taxed, directly or indirectly when they achieve a critical mass, so why should the Internet be any different? After all, if of all the nations on earth, we need a license to watch Tom & Jerry, why shouldn’t this form of extortion be extended to the PC, which can also double as a receiver?

Maybe they have thought about it but they aren’t ready to share their conclusions with us quite yet!

What do you think?


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