Texas Net filtering bill passed

If ISPs in the Lone Star state don't offer customers free blocking software, they could get slapped with a fine up to $10,000.

If Internet service providers in the Lone Star state don't offer customers free blocking software, they could get slapped with a fine up to $10,000.

The Texas House of Representatives passed the bill with the stiff penalty today and sent it to the state Senate International Relations, Trade, and Technology Committee.

In the wake of the legal attacks on the federal Communications Decency Act, now before the Supreme Court, legislatures across the country are looking for less controversial ways to filter objectionable material on the Net. Drafting a law that calls for ISPs to simply offer blocking software is the easiest route because most service providers already do it.

During the Supreme Court hearing on the CDA last month, the attorney fighting the law said blocking software, not government regulations on Net content, was the best resource for parents who want to protect their children from certain material on the Web.

In same week that Texas Rep. Frank Corte (R-San Antonio) introduced the bill on February 17, Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-California) introduced a bill that would repeal the CDA and require Internet service providers to offer filtering software to their customers.

Lofgren's bill, the Internet Freedom and Child Protection Act, didn't specify civil penalties for ISPs or require that no charge be applied for the software. The legislation is winning bipartisan support in Congress and has drawn no opposition from the many ISPs her office has contacted about the bill.

The Texas bill, if passed, would go into effect in January of next year and excludes colleges, universities, and the state telecommunications provider, the General Services Commission. It states that the link for free software should be "on the provider's first page of World Wide Web text information accessible to the subscriber."

Most ISPs already offer software to customers, sometimes free of charge. SafeSurf, Cyber Patrol, NetNanny, and Cybersitter can all block sites involving sex, drugs, violence, and many other topics.

However, free-speech advocates have criticized filtering software that banned access to sites reserved for discussion of gay and lesbian issues and topics such as feminism.

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