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Senate panel weighs spam restrictions

A key Senate committee is set to vote on a proposal to restrict unsolicited commercial e-mail by requiring a working return address and a way to decline future messages.

A key Senate committee plans to vote Thursday on a proposal to restrict unsolicited commercial e-mail by requiring a working return address and a way for recipients to decline future messages.

The Senate Commerce Committee, chaired by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., intends to consider the "Can-Spam" Act and a slew of other technology-related bills, including proposals to fund nanotechnology research and strengthen oversight of a problem-plagued program to wire libraries to the Internet.

Under the Can-Spam Act, federal regulators and Internet service providers would be able to sue spammers who use "materially false" or forged headers, do not include a valid opt-out mechanism, or send out messages based on e-mail addresses obtained by crawling the Web.

Last week, Can-Spam sponsor Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., that is "threatening to poison the medium" and urged the Federal Trade Commission to be aggressive in wielding whatever new powers it receives. The Commerce committee also is likely to consider a second antispam proposal that would grant the FTC the power to serve secret requests for subscriber information on Internet service providers, peruse FBI criminal databases and swap sensitive information with foreign law enforcement agencies.

Other bills scheduled for a vote on Thursday include:

• A bill that would fulfill the periodic reauthorization of the Federal Communications Commission and would also strengthen oversight of the "e-rate" program. The program, which reports have suggested is rife with abuse, provides discounted Internet connections to schools and libraries by taxing some telecommunications companies. The bill says the FCC must "conduct an investigation" into the program "with a particular emphasis on determining the specific fraud or abuse of federal funds that has occurred."

Another section in the FCC reauthorization bill would make it more difficult for the agency to reduce media ownership requirements. On June 2, the FCC voted 3-2 to relax rules limiting ownership of TV stations, radio stations and newspapers, saying that decades-old regulations are obsolete in part because of the rise of the Internet and other new technologies.

• A nanotech funding plan, also sponsored by Wyden, that would spend about $446 million on a "National Nanotechnology Research Program." Wyden's proposal would increase President Bush's request for nanotech funding by 15 percent for the 2004 fiscal year.