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Congress educates itself about Net

Convinced that the language in the Communications Decency Act stemmed from ignorance about cyberspace, Congressman Rick White (R-Washington) today launched the Internet Caucus to educate Congress before it passes any other Net-related bills.

Convinced that the language in the Communications Decency Act stemmed from ignorance about cyberspace, Congressman Rick White (R-Washington) today launched the Internet Caucus to educate Congress before it passes any other Net-related bills.

White had fought for the words harmful to minors to replace indecency in the CDA, but he lost by one vote. The fight led to his resolve to change his peers' understanding of the Internet and other online communication forums.

"[White's] belief was that he was defeated because a number of members don't fully understand the Internet," said Connie Correl, the congressman's press secretary. "He talked to a few members before the vote and convinced them that the Internet is different from broadcast television, but it was impossible for him to reach all 435 members," she said.

White proposed the formation of the caucus in January and has been promoting it along with Congressman Rick Boucher (D-Virginia) and Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and Larry Pressler (R-South Dakota).

"Some members of Congress seem to be lost in cyberspace," White said in a statement. "The idea behind the Internet Caucus is to do two things: increase members' understanding of the Internet and get more members online so that people can contact their elected representative on the Internet."

Twenty members of Congress have joined the caucus, including Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Georgia) and Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (D-California). Caucus members are required to have either their own Web sites or an Internet email account.

The caucus will be advised by 22 companies and organizations, including The Center for Democracy and Technology, Netscape Communications, Microsoft, America Online, AT&T, CompuServe, and Prodigy.

Separately, the committee that oversees Capitol Hill press operations voted to provide credentials to reporters who work for online publications so that they can get access to the congressional press room, a critical privilege for reporters covering federal legislation. Credentials were previously available only to reporters for print, radio, or television media.

To qualify for a credential, an online publication must charge for subscriptions or carry paid advertising and its reporter must work for a daily news section.

The creation of the Caucus and the acceptance of online journalists together reflect the new-found awareness on the part of federal legislators of the Internet and its power as a mass communications medium.