Tuesday, July 26, 2011
I love to hate the Internet...
What a wonderful, useful tool the internet is. If it weren't for the internet, you wouldn't be reading this right now! It allows me to get my prints done from a great lab 2,000 miles away; it lets me video chat with my mother 1,100 miles away; it provides quick and easy communication with my clients, lets me advertise widely, provides a revenue stream...
Until it doesn't.
Two things reminded me of that with a vengeance over the past two weeks. First, I lost the internet...gone, kaput, dead, a former internet. I live in a rural/country area, and frankly I'm lucky to have cable TV/internet lines to my house at all (much of my community doesn't). I used to have to use satellite internet, which was both slow and expensive. Being in the country, however, means that when something goes wrong, it can take a long time to fix...and that's what happened recently. About two weeks ago, it started acting "flaky" -- it would be on for an hour or so, then off for several hours. It would come on in the middle of the night (I only knew this because e-mails put into my out box in the afternoon would send themselves overnight if I left my computer on).
So I called the cable company and reported the problem. We'll get right on it, they say, and will have a service person at your house in, um, 4 days. 4 days??!! Well, see, there's only one service guy covering a very large rural area, and...
So four days go by, the service guy shows up, runs some tests...and concludes the problem is somewhere down the line (a line that's about 40 miles long), in one of the amps or repeaters. Which means hours of checking, line tracing, etc. To make a long story short, I had no internet for 11 days...then suddenly it just started working again, with no call from the company or anything else.
Yes, I know, in the grand scheme of things it's not that big of a deal. Still...for all of that time I couldn't place any print orders, so clients had to wait for deliveries. I couldn't do any e-mail, to verify appointments, send out flyers to customers asking for information, or *get* any e-mails from potential customers (and when it all came back on finally, there were 20+ such e-mail requests, some of which I lost out on because I didn't reply for so long). My web site didn't get updated, I couldn't do any blog posts. Cut off from the rest of the world, and I didn't like it one bit...and it cost me business.
The only lesson I learned is that I need back-up methods for some of the things I take for granted -- like always-on internet access. So I signed up for a $5.00 a month NetZero dial-up internet account...it's pretty slow, but it'll be a good thing to have as a backup. And I certainly lost more in business over 11 days than this will cost me for a whole year, so it's worth it as insurance.
The other thing that happened? Well, my state (California) has finally figured out how important the internet is, too. And by noticing that, they decided they could suck some money out of it. Or at least try to.
Not long ago, California passed a bill that would require any business with any kind of "presence" in California to charge (and remit to the state) California sales tax on any sales made to California residents. Even if the actual "store" doing the sale was nowhere near California. Pundits took to calling it the "Amazon" bill, since Amazon's sales in California were used by its proponents as an example of how much sales tax revenue they were missing out on. Now, sure, my state (like many others) has budget problems, and some extra revenue would sure help out. But this one wasn't thought through very well, and they've done noting but shoot themselves and some of their residents in the foot.
See, most not-in-California businesses (like Amazon and Adorama, my favorite New York camera superstore) don't have an actual "presence" in California. What they did have were "affiliates" -- people like me, writing blogs or producing other small-time websites. See that Adorama ad up there at the top right of my page? It's linked to my Adorama affiliate ID, and if somebody clicks on the link from my site, and buys something, I get a little piece of the sale. Or at least I *did* until a few weeks ago.
California's bill defined a "presence" in our fair state to include any affiliates or sales people living in California. Which means that if Amazon or Adorama or anyone else had affiliates in California, they were considered to have a "presence" in the state, and had to charge CA sales tax on ALL sales to California residents. Never mind that the affiliates are mostly people like me, who make a few bucks a month to help offset costs of a blog, and wouldn't be any significant source of revenue...that's irrelevant.
On the face of it, it might have seemed like a good idea to the lawmakers -- an easy way to pick up some extra revenue. In practice, not so much. See, Amazon and Adorama and others, not wanting to charge higher prices, add more accounting people to deal with keeping track of CA sales and taxes, and considering the whole thing unfair anyway, did the reasonable thing: they stopped having affiliates in California. No affiliates, no "presence." And no tax income for my state. Oops. The lawmakers didn't think this one through very well.
(How the California law affects Internet Affiliates)
So rather than raise tax income for the state, they're going to get nothing because the out of state companies simply cancelled all their California affiliates. And since affiliates like me were paying state taxes on our affiliate revenue, the net result will be *less* taxes taken in for California -- not more. All they did was take away a small but decent revenue source for many California residents, and cost the state tax revenue. When new dictionaries come out in a couple of years, looking up "shortsighted" in them will probably have a reference to this California law. Sigh.
So yes, the internet "got me" the past couple of weeks. I still love it, but sometimes I wonder...