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Blunt proposes legislative goals regarding Internet

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by Ann Bucy

SBJ Contributing Writer

Last month, Republican Rep. Roy Blunt met with local Internet service providers to find out what their needs are and to attempt to keep in touch with the ever-changing world of the Internet.

Blunt is a member of the Committee on Commerce and its Subcommittee on Telecommunications, Trade and Consumer Protection, which has jurisdiction over matters concerning the Internet and the FCC.

He said the FCC is not considering imposing new telephone charges for access to the Internet. "If they are proposed, I will be strongly opposed to them," he said. "I'm not going to be for user charges. I don't want this to be a cash cow for the federal government."

Blunt added that he has received a number of e-mails, faxes and phone calls on the subject.

"The problem is a misunderstanding of a complex issue regarding reciprocal compensation between phone companies," he said. "These payments compensate a local telephone company for completing a call that's placed by one of its competitor's customers."

He cited an FCC fact sheet explaining that reciprocal compensation is not paid by consumers or by Internet service providers. The commission has repeatedly stated that it is not preparing to change the manner in which consumers obtain and pay for Internet access.

"In its short history, the Internet has become an education, entertainment and communications superhighway for millions of Americans and people around the world," he said. "There is no need to put barriers on the use of the Internet or to tax those who have been encouraged to use it."

According to the FCC, local phone companies are at least partly compensated for Internet traffic because many consumers are installing second lines dedicated to their computers. Local phone companies that are experiencing longer calls for Internet use cannot impose higher fees on Internet service providers.

Most states require phone companies to charge flat rates for unlimited local usage, and phone companies can't alter that rate without approval from agencies such as Missouri's Public Service Commission.

Blunt said he has six legislative goals to encourage a secure, free flow of information for consumers and businesses using the Internet:

1. First and foremost, Blunt said, he will not allow the Internet to become "a cash cow for the IRS or any other federal agency. I will oppose over-regulation and taxation of this new resource," Blunt stated.

2. He said that he believes Congress needs to set a neutral, nationwide standard for electronic authentication which creates an electronic signature that allows people to do business online.

3. The export of strong encryption products needs to be eased to bring the highest degree of privacy and security to the worldwide communications system, Blunt said.

4. Protecting privacy online is of paramount concern to every user who signs on. "I am prepared to work with the industry to develop an enforceable and self-regulating system to ensure the privacy of everyone who uses the Internet," Blunt said.

5. The Internet offers an opportunity to bring medical services and information to rural and underserved areas. Congress needs to examine how information technology and medical technology can better serve the quality of life and health care for millions of rural Americans, Blunt added.

6. Congress must address the flood of unwanted, unsolicited e-mail. The task of Congress is to protect the First Amendment and unclog cyberspace at the same time, Blunt said.

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