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Senate wants to tax your online shopping and Netflix-binge habits #InternetFreedomAct

The intent of the Internet-related legislation is to keep states from enacting new taxes on Internet access. However, the Senate is proposing an Act that would give states the option to tax “remote businesses” i.e. online retailers selling within states’ borders.

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Keeping states from enacting Internet taxes

The inclusion of the Internet Tax Freedom Act (ITFA) in the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 had shown some promise when we reported on this critical moratorium a few weeks ago. The intent of the Internet-related legislation is to keep states from enacting new taxes on Internet access.

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However, the Senate removed the supporting language from the trade bill and included it instead in the omnibus spending package that passed both the House and Senate on December 18, 2015.

Senate proposing tax for online retailers

The moratorium on new taxes for Internet access has been extended until October 2016. While the White House has shown support for the legislation, through the President’s repeated statements in support of net neutrality, it’s the Senate that is prolonging the stopgap. Specifically, U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R – Tenn.), who also wants a vote on the Marketplace Fairness Act, of which he is the lead co-sponsor.

The Act would give states the option to tax “remote businesses” i.e. online retailers selling within states’ borders.

Interestingly enough, the White House has been in favor of Alexander’s legislation, with an endorsement via former White House press secretary Jay Carney as reported by The Hill in this 2013 article. Carney spoke then on “the need for federal legislation to level the playing field for our businesses and address sales tax fairness.”

Leveling the playing field

The debate stems from the impact to various parties from consumers to retailers. The legislators in support of a remote business tax have stated that the law will create a level playing field for brick and mortar retailers, providing much needed revenue to states in need.

The opposing view believes that consumers will bear the cost through discriminatory taxes at the state and local levels.

Taxing your Netflix-binge habit

The concern about discriminatory taxes seems well-founded with Chicago’s July 1, 2015 creation of the 9% “amusement tax” that affects entertainment both in person and electronic delivery. Charges are required to be paid for the privileges of “watching electronically delivered television shows, movies or video,” as well as “listening to electronically delivered music” and “participating in games, online or otherwise.”

The code states that the amusement tax applies only to rentals, and not “permanent” downloads. This local ordinance mostly impacts streaming online services including iTunes, Netflix and Hulu.

Amazon calls for streaming tax

Interestingly, online sales giant Amazon has long supported this legislation as evidenced by this 2013 article from The Hill, stating that “Amazon argues that a single national framework for tax collection is preferable to a patchwork of state laws.” Amazon’s greatest online rivals including eBay and Overstock who don’t have a physical presence in the number of states that Amazon does.

Amazon has been collecting sales taxes in those states where they have a physical presence, including Illinois as of February 1, 2015, and Michigan on October 1, 2015.

On an intriguing side note, former Obama administration press secretary Jay Carney was hired by Amazon in February of 2015 as senior vice president of global corporate affairs.

His position includes oversight of public policy and public relations.

Streaming tax goes largely unreported in state returns

In states that require state income tax returns, consumers have been required to self-report that tax. According to this Detroit Free Press article, Michigan state officials estimated that “only 2.5% of what was really due” was reported for untaxed online purchases in the 2013 tax returns.

States’ rights vs. Net neutrality

Whether Senator Alexander holds true to his principles of the past or will sacrifice net neutrality for states’ rights will play out over the next ten months. Keep in mind that Alexander stated in these remarks from November 7, 2003, on the Internet Tax Moratorium of  “no taxation of Internet access” and that “virtually all of us are willing to keep state and local governments from taxing Internet access.“

Many economists are skeptical, and even accusing Alexander as well as Senate Democrat whip Dick Durbin of holding the ITFA hostage for the sake of their own agendas. National Review economist Stephen Moore pointed out the hypocrisy of some of Durbin’s statements in his article. “… Now the man who says the Internet should be universally available and affordable hypocritically wants to tax it to make it less affordable. The primary victims, if Senator Durbin’s eleventh-hour tax gambit succeeds, will be poor households…”

Indeed, having access to the Internet has moved well beyond being a luxury to being a convenience for all users, regardless of their income and tax bracket.

#InternetTaxFreedomAct

Debbie Cerda is a seasoned writer and consultant, running Debra Cerda Consulting as well as handling business development at data-driven app development company, Blue Treble Solutions. She's a proud and active member of Austin Film Critics Association and the American Homebrewers Association, and Outreach Director for science fiction film festival, Other Worlds Austin. She has been very involved in the tech scene in Austin for over 15 years, so whether you meet her at Sundance Film Festival, SXSWi, Austin Women in Technology, or BASHH, she'll have a connection or idea to help you achieve business success. At the very least, she can recommend a film to watch and a great local craft beer to drink.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Anakai

    February 29, 2016 at 7:57 pm

    I guess that Constitution thingy that all those guys like to love on so much suddenly becomes irrelevant when it comes to picking your pocket.

    Section 1, Article 9.5:
    “No tax or duty shall be laid on Articles exported from any State.”

    Reading is evidently not a required skill for electing people to positions of authority that control millions of people.

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Keep your company’s operations lean by following these proven strategies

(BUSINESS) Keeping your operations lean means more than saving money, it means accomplishing more in less time.

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The past two years have been challenging, not just economically, but also politically and socially as well. While it would be nice to think that things are looking up, in reality, the problems never end. Taking a minimalist approach to your business, AKA keeping it lean, can help you weather the future to be more successful.

Here are some tips to help you trim the fat without putting profits above people.

Automate processes

Artificial intelligence frees up human resources. AI can manage many routine elements of your business, giving your team time to focus on important tasks that can’t be delegated to machines. This challenges your top performers to function at higher levels, which can only benefit your business.

Consider remote working

Whether you rent or own your property, it’s expensive to keep an office open. As we learned in the pandemic, many jobs can be done just as effectively from home as the workplace. Going remote can save you money, even if you help your team outfit their home office for safety and efficiency.

In today’s world, many are opting to completely shutter office doors, but you may be able to save money by using less space or renting out some of your office space.

Review your systems to find the fat

As your business grows (or downsizes), your systems need to change to fit how you work. Are there places where you can save money? If you’re ordering more, you may be able to ask vendors for discounts. Look for ways to bring down costs.

Talk to your team about where their workflow suffers and find solutions. An annual review through your budget with an eye on saving money can help you find those wasted dollars.

Find the balance

Operating lean doesn’t mean just saving money. It can also mean that you look at your time when deciding to pay for services. The point is to be as efficient as possible with your resources and systems, while maintaining customer service and safety. When you operate in a lean way, it sets your business up for success.

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How to apply to be on a Board of Directors

(BUSINESS) What do you need to think about and explore if you want to apply for a Board of Directors? Here’s a quick rundown of what, why, and when.

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What?
What does a Board of Directors do? Investopedia explains “A board of directors (B of D) is an elected group of individuals that represent shareholders. The board is a governing body that typically meets at regular intervals to set policies for corporate management and oversight. Every public company must have a board of directors. Some private and nonprofit organizations also have a board of directors.”

Why?
It is time to have a diverse representation of thoughts, values and insights from intelligently minded people that can give you the intel you need to move forward – as they don’t have quite the same vested interests as you.

We have become the nation that works like a machine. Day in and day out we are consumed by our work (and have easy access to it with our smartphones). We do volunteer and participate in extra-curricular activities, but it’s possible that many of us have never understood or considered joining a Board of Directors. There’s a new wave of Gen Xers and Millennials that have plenty of years of life and work experience + insights that this might be the time to resurrect (or invigorate) interest.

Harvard Business Review shared a great article about identifying the FIVE key areas you would want to consider growing your knowledge if you want to join a board:

1. Financial – You need to be able to speak in numbers.
2. Strategic – You want to be able to speak to how to be strategic even if you know the numbers.
3. Relational – This is where communication is key – understanding what you want to share with others and what they are sharing with you. This is very different than being on the Operational side of things.
4. Role – You must be able to be clear and add value in your time allotted – and know where you especially add value from your skills, experiences and strengths.
5. Cultural – You must contribute the feeling that Executives can come forward to seek advice even if things aren’t going well and create that culture of collaboration.

As Charlotte Valeur, a Danish-born former investment banker who has chaired three international companies and now leads the UK’s Institute of Directors, says, “We need to help new participants from under-represented groups to develop the confidence of working on boards and to come to know that” – while boardroom capital does take effort to build – “this is not rocket science.

When?
NOW! The time is now for all of us to get involved in helping to create a brighter future for organizations and businesses that we care about (including if they are our own business – you may want to create a Board of Directors).

The Harvard Business Review gave great explanations of the need to diversify those that have been on the Boards to continue to strive to better represent our population as a whole. Are you ready to take on this challenge? We need you.

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Average age of successful startup founders is 45, but stop stereotyping

(BUSINESS) Our culture glorifies (yet condemns?) startup founders as rich 20-somethings in hoodies, but some are a totally different type.

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There’s a common misconception that startups are riddled with semi-nerdy, 20-something white dudes who do nothing but sip Nitro Brews and walk around the open office showing off the hoodie they wore yesterday. It turns out that it’s extremely rare that startup offices resemble The Social Network.

However, the academic backdrop for the real social network story (AKA Harvard), produced statistics that will serve to put the aforementioned misconception to rest. According to the Harvard Business Review, the average age of people who founded the highest-growth startups is 45. Say what?! A full-fledged adult?!

In fact, aside from the age category of 60 and over, ages 29 and younger were the smallest group of founders that are responsible for heading the highest-growth startups. I guess you can accomplish a lot when you’re not riding around the office on a scooter all day.

The study also found that older entrepreneurs are more likely to succeed. The probability of extreme startup success rises with age, at least until the late 50s. It was found that work experience plays an important role.

Many will argue, “Well, what about someone like Steve Jobs?” You could easily argue right back that it took Jobs until the age of 52 to create Apple’s most profitable product – the iPhone.

The study continues to answer questions like, why do Venture Capitalist investors bet on young founders? This goes back to the misconception at the start, and there’s a notion that youth is the key for successful entrepreneurship. Wrong.

There is also the idea that younger entrepreneurs are likely working with less financial options, so it may be common for them to take something from a VC at a lower price. As a result, they could be viewed as more of a bargain than older founders.

“The next step for researchers is to explore what exactly explains the advantage of middle-aged founders,” writes Pierre Azoulay, et al. “For example, is it due to greater access to financial resources, deeper social networks, or certain forms of experience? In the meantime, it appears that advancing age is a powerful feature, not a bug, for starting the most successful firms.”

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