As expected, President Clinton today signed into law a telecommunications bill that is going to have far-reaching implications on the online industry. The expected passage of the bill has galvanized many in the online community to protest against the "Internet smut" provisions. The bill will make it a crime to knowingly transmit "indecent" material over the Net that could be viewed by a minor. Those found guilty could face up to two years in prison and fines of up to $250,000.
"It's a sad day for free speech in America," said Barry Steinhardt, associate director of the ACLU. "These are criminal laws, and we don't believe that anyone can really understand at this point what materials and content is permissible and what's not," he said.
The ACLU and other organizations have since filed a lawsuit to impose a ban on the act while it is under consideration. The judge in the federal district court in Philadelphia has set a 3 p.m. (ET) hearing to review the motion for the temporary restraining order, according to Steinhardt. "We're hopeful we will win. Even the president has expressed some reservations about this section," he said. Steinhardt thinks this issue will likely end up in the U.S. Supreme Court in the next two years.
Other provisions include:
-Forcing local telephone companies to open up their networks to competitors, allowing consumers for the first time to have a choice of local phone carriers.
-Deregulating cable TV rates, allowing cable companies to offer new services, including telephone-calling or Internet access.
-Relaxing curbs on TV and radio station ownership.
-Allowing parents to have more control over what their kids watch on TV because of the "V-chip" provision. The V-chip will let parents zap from their TV sets violent and other objectionable content.
For more on these issues, read CNET's censorship feature.