The email described a bill that would require Net users to pay the U.S. Postal Service up to five cents per email to regain revenue lost to email.
"If the U.S. Postal Service is allowed to tinker with email, it will mark the end of the 'free' Internet as we know it," stated the email.
Despite the implied urgency of the extensively disseminated email, "Senate Bill 602p" and "Congressman Tony Schnell," who was said to have introduced the legislation, don't exist. Nor does Virginia law firm "Berger, Stepp, and Gorman," which was cited as the sender of the email.
Often surfers who believe email hoaxes such as Senate Bill 602p forward the email to legislators and everyone on their mailing lists, which clogs in-boxes and causes unnecessary distress.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill who deal with telecommunications and Net issues are all too familiar with the Senate Bill 602p hoax.
Ken Johnson, press representative for Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-Louisiana), said he deals with hoax emails such as this by hitting "Alt-Delete, Alt-Delete" to quickly erase the messages. He said emails such as the Senate Bill 602p hoax waste time and drain resources.
"We have so many things that are important to deal with," he added.
But the threat of Internet surcharges is not completely unfounded. Net access providers have faced potential levies, for example, such as a failed proposal that would have forced ISPs to contribute to the Universal Service Fund, which supports Net connection subsidies for schools and libraries.
The FCC rejected any such idea, but another widely circulated email continued to warn about the agency instituting a "modem tax," which it was not considering.
Several legislators, including Tauzin, sent a letter in March to Federal Communications Commission chairman William Kennard asking him to support legislation eliminating the agency's ability to "regulate the Internet or impose access charges on Internet service."
The letter said the goal was "to end this uncertainty once and for all and to stop the thousands of emails and phone calls from concerned Internet users."
Charles Hymes, owner of the Don't Spread That Hoax Web site, said recipients should ignore the email about 602p.
"There's not a very good excuse at all for forwarding this message before going to the authoritative source and reading it yourself," he said. "There's practically nothing that's completely uncheckable."