House Passes Internet Access Bill

SAN MATEO (05/17/2000) - The U.S. House of Representatives yesterday passed Internet-access legislation that has drawn the ire of VOIP (voice over IP) vendors and supporters.

Specifically, the House, by voice vote, passed H.R. 1291, the Internet Access Charge Prohibition Act of 1999, which lawmakers originally crafted as a bill to throw bipartisan support behind a ban on Internet access taxation. But a recent amendment to the bill would leave room for the Federal Communications Commission to levy access charges for VOIP applications.

The legislation still must pass the Senate, where its critics have vowed a more stringent fight, sources said.

The amendment introduced by Fred Upton, a Republican from Michigan, and adopted by the House Commerce Committee, states that the legislation should not preclude the FCC "from imposing access charges on the providers of Internet telephone services, irrespective of the type of customer premises equipment used in connection with such services."

That exception to the bill -- which basically bans other Internet access surcharges -- has riled some VOIP supporters.

"I believe the telephony industry should pay something, but not charges based on Old World rules," said Jeff Pulver, CEO of Pulver.com, which publishes The Pulver Report on emerging Internet technology.

A spokesman for Upton said the congressman inserted the amendment to keep the bill moving. Upton's intent was to move VOIP off the table, because those applications are not yet as mainstream as others on the Internet, the spokesman said.

"People who are able to use voice over the Internet for telephony purposes right now are mostly in higher income categories. It is not such a wide-reaching thing at this point," he said.

But Pulver said he is looking to rally Internet providers around the notion that a charge on VOIP applications would open a Pandora's box of issues should the bill try to regulate one type of data set and not another.

Many have speculated that the bill language might well pass the House but would have a harder time getting through the Senate, Pulver said.

Jennifer Jones is an InfoWorld senior editor.

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