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Consumers notch gain in battle vs. junk e-mail

March 29, 2001 

WASHINGTON - A key congressional committee yesterday approved a bill that would give consumers the ability to block Internet junk mail, or ''spam,'' which is sometimes sent out in the millions by marketers and other firms.

The legislation, which would mark one of the government's first wide-ranging attempts to regulate the Net, now goes to the House, where its backers say it will almost certainly win approval. A similar bill was introduced in the Senate this week.

''This legislation will get to the bottom of the problem, and the result will be happier consumers and a healthier Internet,'' said Representative W.J. ''Billy'' Tauzin, a Louisiana Republican and the chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

Electronic junk mail has become increasingly prominent on the Net, promoting everything from traditional products to pornography and pyramid schemes. For some marketers, junk mail represents a cheap way to reach millions, but consumers and Internet service providers complain the sheer bulk of the messages clogs computer systems.

The Unsolicited Commercial Electronic Mail Act of 2001, introduced by Representatives Gene Green, a Texas Democrat, and Heather Wilson, a New Mexico Republican, would require firms to label junk mail as an unsolicited commercial advertisement and to include a return e-mail address that allows consumers to remove themselves from the e-mail list.

Companies that fail to comply would face action from the Federal Trade Commission. ISPs could also sue the firms for $500 for each violation, up to $50,000.

While the bill passed unanimously, some lawmakers expressed concerns.

Representative Edward Markey, Democrat of Malden, warned that the legislation might give Internet service providers too much leeway in blocking e-mail, even messages that don't necessarily qualify as spam. He supported the bill but said more discussion was needed on the ISP's role.

Many retailers, insurers, and financial firms have opposed the measure, saying it could slow the evolution of electronic commerce.

Anthony Shadid can be reached by e-mail at

This story ran on page 01 of the Boston Globe on 3/29/2001.

By Anthony Shadid, Copyright © 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.

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