APR 2011: Universal Service, Spectrum Policy, Online Privacy and Internet Sales Taxes

The Reason Foundation today has published the Telecommunications and Internet section of its 2011 Annual Privatization Review.

Although there’s been a bit of lead time since the articles were written, they are still timely. Notable is the discussion on the collection of state sales taxes from Internet retailers, back in the news now that has reached an agreement with the state of Texas to collect sales taxes from consumers in the Lone Star State. The settlement concludes a lengthy battle in Austin as to whether Amazon’s distribution facility in Ft. Worth constitutes a “nexus” as defined in previous court cases.

While a blow to Amazon’s Texas customers (full disclosure: I count myself as one), the action may shed further light on the debate as to how much advantage the Amazon has because it can waive sales tax collection. Competitors such as ailing Best Buy have said it’s enough to hurt brick-and-mortar retailers. Amazon points to findings that in New York, the most populous state where it collects sales tax, sales have not fallen off. Soon we’ll see if Texas tracks with that data as well. If it does, it will further validate opinions that Amazon and other on-line retailers are succeeding because they have fundamentally changed the way people shop, not because they can simply avoid sales taxes.

Also in the report look for updates on the FCC’s options for the next spectrum auction, state and federal policymaking on search engines and social networking sites, and how priorities may change as the FCC migrates from the current Federal Universal Service Fund to its new more broadband-oriented Connect America Fund.

The telecom section of APR 2011 can be found here.