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Rumors prompt bill to bar Net taxes

A Michigan congressman, in a move to quell consumer fears, introduces legislation that would bar federal regulators from planning per-minute fees on Net access.

A Michigan congressman has introduced legislation that would bar federal regulators from imposing new per-minute fees on Internet access.

Although the bill isn't responding to any recent moves by the Federal Communications Commission to raise new Net fees, persistent rumors on the Internet have resulted in angry consumers overwhelming congressional offices with mail and queries on the issue.

In fact, even FCC chairman William Kennard has gone out of his way many times in the last month to stress that his agency has no intention of regulating Internet access.

Despite assurances, the rumors haven't disappeared. One recent variation of a "modem tax" story, which has circulated around mailing lists and bulletin boards in several forms, cites a CNN report and asks all readers to email or write their legislators to oppose the alleged bill.

"CNN reported that in the next two weeks, Congress is going to vote on allowing telephone companies to charge for Internet access," the anonymous message reads. "That means, every time we make a long distance email we will receive a long distance charge."

Representative Fred Upton (R-Michigan) says his office has received between 500 and 600 mails on the subject since December.

"More people have contacted me on this issue this year than on any other," Upton said.

The bill, introduced yesterday with about 65 co-sponsors, would block the FCC from imposing any new per-minute or long distance charges on calls to ISPs.

Upton said he supports Kennard's repeated promises that the FCC will not raise the price of calls to ISPs. But he said he wanted to address constituent concerns on the issue.

"There are a couple of loopholes that might allow it to happen," the congressman said. "Why not be certain?"