Digital Unrest Legislation, Litigation and Other Policy Changes Impacting the Tech Sector

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1 Michele Borens, Partner Charlie Kearns, Counsel June 17, 2014 Digital Unrest Legislation, Litigation and Other Policy Changes Impacting the Tech Sector

2 Agenda Industry Trends Related to Digital Goods and Services Expansion of Telecommunication Taxation Impact on Taxation if ITFA Expires Sales Tax Risks and Other Non-Tax Considerations 2

3 Overview States continue to enact legislation which expands sales and use tax and other taxes to cloud-based goods and services, and digital goods and services However, there continues to be significant differences in those states that tax such goods and services In addition, some states have alternative tax regimes where it is often unclear whether the regime is intended to tax digital goods, services and other items (e.g., excise taxes, telecommunication type taxes, etc.) 3

4 Overview Why does characterization matter? Taxability and Sourcing What are you selling/buying? Telecom Service Digital Good or Service Software Data Processing or Information Service Tangible personal property Something else? 4

5 Streaming Video Services 5

6 Streaming Video Subscription State and local jurisdictions have issued assessments to streaming video providers based on varying theories, of which most were not made public by ruling or regulation prior to the audit Netflix is the lead taxpayer in several of the pending controversies, including: Kentucky Telecom Taxes St. Charles Parish (Louisiana) Local Sales Tax City of Chicago Lease Tax 6

7 Streaming Video Subscriptions Texas adopted regulatory amendments redefining the scope of taxable cable television services. 34 Texas Admin. Cd The revised regulation defines for the first time several terms related to the cable television services industry; adopts a destination-based sourcing rule for intrastate sales of streaming video; and taxes bundled cable services. The Comptroller defines a cable system as the system through which a cable service provider delivers cable television or bundled cable service and states that it may comprise any or all of the following: tangible personal property; real property; and other media, such as radio waves, microwaves, or any other means of conveyance now in existence or that may be developed. Texas s regulatory definition of cable system now exceeds the scope of the term as defined by the FCC The amended regulation also revised the definition of cable television service to encompass all forms of video programming, including streaming video, whether provided via the Internet or other technology 7

8 Streaming Video Subscriptions Missouri issued guidance regarding streaming videos. Missouri Dep t of Rev., Letter Rul. No (Dec. 20, 2013) The sale or rental of streaming video content is not subject to Missouri sales or use tax The service in question allowed customers to purchase or rent video content and to stream the content through devices like computers and televisions via the Internet Analogizing the service to prewritten computer software which is not taxable when delivered in any medium other than TPP the Department found that streaming content is likewise not taxable because no TPP is transferred 8

9 Telecommunication Services 9

10 Introduction All states and most local governments impose taxes and/or fees on the sales of telecommunications services, whether on the charges or gross receipts, or on a per line or access basis, to varying degrees. States generally do not assert regulatory authority (outside of general police powers such as consumer protection or deceptive trade practices) over nonutility telecommunications providers. Many states define telecommunication services or communications services in a broad manner for tax purposes, typically more expansive than under their regulatory regimes 10

11 Evolution of Telecom Taxation (Voice) Cloud-Based Nomadic VoIP?? VoIP Fixed/Interconnected Vonage (2004) Wireless Telecom MTSA (2000) POTS ILECs/CLECs Utility/Non-Utility Goldberg (1989) 11

12 Voice Taxation Voice providers may be taxed differently based on regulatory differences, lack of clarity for sourcing, and constitutional limitations. Cable Internet Protocol Wireless Traditional Telecom Satellite Digital Voice (VoIP) Vonage, Skype, IBM Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, Sprint, AT&T AT&T, Verizon, CenturyLink Partner with Telecom 12

13 Internet Access Taxation With the Internet Tax Freedom Act set to expire in 2014, non-grandfathered states may attempt to tax Internet access at that time. Until then, clarification of federal preemption may be needed with respect to Internet access definition and multiple and discriminatory taxes on e-commerce. Cable Internet Protocol Wireless Traditional Telecom Satellite High Speed Cable Internet, Cable WiFi, Wireless Internet Clear Fiber Optic Internet Wireless Internet DSL Internet, Wireless Internet Partner with ISP 13

14 Data Storage/Transmission Taxation Few states statutorily tax or exempt data storage, thus leading to confusion as to the character and sourcing of the service. Issues related to nexus may also arise. Cable Internet Protocol Wireless Traditional Telecom Satellite theplatform, Charter Cloud Drive, Navisite Amazon Verizon/EMC/ Terremark AT&T?? 14

15 Telecom Services Defined Many states define telecommunication services (or communications services ) in a broad manner for tax purposes Based on these definitions, many states may impose various transaction taxes, as well as other taxes and fees, on largely unregulated telecommunications service providers and other sellers of telecommunications-related products. 15

16 Telecom Services Defined For example, the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement defines telecommunications service as: [T]he electronic transmission, conveyance, or routing of voice, data, audio, video, or any other information or signals to a point, or between or among points. The term telecommunications service includes such transmission, conveyance, or routing in which computer processing applications are used to act on the form, code or protocol of the content for purposes of transmission, conveyance or routing without regard to whether such service is referred to as voice over Internet protocol services or is classified by the Federal Communications Commission as enhanced or value added. 16

17 Telecom Services Defined Products typically excluded from the telecom definition (possibly subject to the general business regime or special rules): Internet access Video and radio programming Data processing and information services Digital goods and services Installation services Advertising The emphasis is on the transmission of data, not on the content 17

18 Application of Telecom Definitions Washington State Qualcomm, Inc. v. Dept. of Revenue, 249 P.3d 167 (Wash. 2011)(taxpayer s service is an information service because its primary purpose to the customer is to manipulate and convert transmitted information into a usable form) Tennessee IBM Corporation v. Farr, Civil No I (Davidson County, Tenn. Chancery Ct. filed July 20, 2012) (court applied true-object test to determine taxpayer s WAN services was a telecom service- no creation of information- just transmission) 18

19 Application of Telecom Definitions New York State New York Advisory Opinion, TSB-A- 09(60)S, 12/15/2009 (taxpayer s sales of Network Services, multi-protocol conversion services, and access services were taxable sales of telephony and telegraphy and telephone and telegraph service of whatever nature. ) New Jersey Aetna Burglar & Fire Alarm Co. v. Dir., Division of Taxation, 16 NJ Tax 584 (N.J. Tax Court, 1997) (burglar and fire alarm systems connected to taxpayer s network center via customer s existing telephone service were taxable telecom, defined as the act of originating or receiving messages or information through the use of any kind of communication ) 19

20 Taxability Compliance The number of taxes imposed on telecom services is almost 3x that of general business transactions Telecom service providers have over 1,100 more tax bases and 6,600 jurisdictions than general business transactions Over 40,000 tax/fee filing requirements for telecom providers, compared to approximately 7,500 for general businesses 20

21 Missouri Letter Ruling UCaaS The DOR determined that a company s telecommunications services provided to customers on its cloud computer network are subject to sales tax. L.R. 7248, Mo. Dept. of Rev. (May 24, 2013) The company hosted its cloud network on servers located outside of MO, and customers accessed the network through public telecommunications lines and through the customers internal network; customers separately purchased the necessary hardware and Internet access Services provided to customers through the cloud network include voice, video, messaging, and conferencing 21

22 Missouri (cont d) The DOR determined that the company is providing taxable telecommunication services because it transmits information through its services that direct and control its customers hardware and because it stores messages on its server, which are taxable events in Missouri The DOR also noted that customers would not be able to use their equipment without the company s software and hosting unless the customer was willing to engage another telecommunications company or built its own in-house system 22

23 Internet Access Services 23

24 Internet Access The federal Internet Tax Freedom Act (ITFA) prohibits three types of state and local taxes: (1) taxes on Internet access; (2) multiple taxes on electronic commerce; and (3) discriminatory taxes on electronic commerce. The Internet access moratorium does not apply to grandfathered states and certain modified gross receipts taxes ITFA is set to expire November 1, 2014 Will Congress renew ITFA? What would happen if Congress allows ITFA to expire? 24

25 Internet Access How will states define Internet access if ITFA expires? Most Streamlined Member States Specific definitions or ITFA cross-references For those states that do not define Internet access, will they narrow the ITFA definition? ITFA definition is broad, including , personal storage, and video clips ITFA protects telecom purchased, used, or sold to provide Internet access is subject 25

26 Internet Access With respect to the Internet access moratorium, issues if ITFA expires*: Which states will automatically tax Internet access? Which states would treat Internet access as a taxable bundled of transport (i.e., telecom) and access? Which states would tax wholesale transport as telecom purchased, used, or sold to provide access? What local taxes will apply? *Non-grandfathered states 26

27 Sales Tax Risks 27

28 Sales Tax Risks New Risk Environment Traditional risks associated with compliance obligations vs. new risks associated with third party enforcement actions Ambiguous state and local transaction tax laws present unique conundrums Conservative collection may no longer be the best answer Risk of overcollecting Risk of not collecting Greater certainty required for sales tax collection 28

29 Sales Tax Risks Third-Party Enforcement Actions Class Actions Charter Missouri Case AT&T New Jersey Case AT&T Mobility and Target California cases False Claims Act Suits Sprint New York Case (below) Whistleblower/Qui Tam Suits New York, Illinois Cases SEC Enforcement Actions Dell, Sprint 29

30 Questions? Michele Borens, Partner Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP Charlie Kearns, Counsel Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP

31 Connect with us! The Sutherland SALT Shaker mobile app is now available. Download today from the: Windows Phone Store itunes App Store Google Play Amazon Appstore for Android Visit us at Sutherland SALT Group 31

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