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Senate, House pass telecom bill with CDA

Despite months of controversy, the Telecommunications Reform Act sailed through both the House and Senate late today with the restrictions on Net content intact. The ACLU is ready to take on the Communications Decency Act rider in court.

A last-minute flurry of email messages, faxes, and old-fashioned mail failed to deter House and Senate members from voting to pass by a wide margin the Telecommunications Reform bill containing an unchanged version of the Communications Decency Act late today.

The House voted 416 to 9 in favor of the bill despite the inclusion of the CDA. The CDA segment calls for fines and jail sentences for Internet content providers who distribute "indecent materials" to minors. The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 91 to 5.

"I think we're going to have a bill here and we're going to have to fix some of it over the next few months," said congressman Rick White (R-Washington) in a telephone interview with CNET Radio's Brian Cooley.

Even though he voted for the bill, White said he's not happy with the CDA measure. "I'm concerned that the indecency standards for material on the Internet may well be unconstitutional and there's an expedited judicial process, so we should know within a year if this standard works constitutionally," said White.

However, during that one-year judicial review period, the law will be enforced.

White said that if the bill turns out to be unconstitutional, Congress will fix it. "If it doesn't, we'll be right back to the drawing board trying to figure something that will probably be more appealing to members of the Internet community."

Not surprisingly, opponents of the CDA measure are not as sanguine as White. Immediately following the Senate vote, the American Civil Liberties Union published a statement denouncing the vote and announcing plans to file a lawsuit challenging the bill.

"The ACLU has been for several months preparing the actual litigation that we will file to challenge the bill," said Anne Beeson, cyberspace policy analyst for the nonprofit organization.

The plaintiffs in the ACLU suit will be Internet content providers disseminating information on topics such as safe sex, AIDS education, and human rights. "We are ready to walk into court to challenge the bill; we have already coordinated the group of plaintiffs who will participate in the suit," she said.

For more info on the issue see CNET's in-depth feature on censorship in cyberspace or tune-in to CNET radio.