E-Mail Hoax Spurs House Committee Vote on I-Tax

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The House Commerce Committee last week cleared legislation in part designed to quell the anger and frustration Internet users have over a nonexistent e-mail tax.

Essentially, the committee voted to outlaw legislation that doesn't exist.

Part of what spurred the unusual move was a hoax e-mail that has been circulating for more than a year saying the U.S. Postal Service may tack a 5 cent surcharge onto every e-mail delivered in the United States.

During the past year, the hoax has spread like wildfire over the Internet, fooling even industry titans.

The e-mail says that under bill 602-P, the government will charge Internet service providers who would then charge consumers a nickel per e-mail. It also says that Rep. Tony Schnell suggested a $20 to $40 per month surcharge on all Internet service above and beyond the government's proposed e-mail charges and that the effort was started because e-mail is costing the USPS almost $230 million in revenue each year.

The e-mail goes on to say that attorney Richard Stepp of Berger, Stepp & Gorman, Vienna, VA, is working without pay to prevent this legislation from becoming law and suggests sending the e-mail to "all Americans on your list and tell your friends and relatives."

In reality, there is no such legislation in the works. There is also no Schnell or Stepp.

The USPS has even addressed the rumor. A year ago, it issued a statement denouncing "the completely false rumor" about it.

However, despite the warnings, congressional officers have been inundated with e-mails, other missives and telephone calls protesting bill 602-P. For example, Rep. Tom Barrett, R-WI, a member of the House Commerce Committee, has reviewed 2,190 messages. Another congressman, Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, R-WI, a member on the House Judiciary Committee, received 933 messages, despite the fact that on his Web page he has a message that also denounced 602-P as a fraud.

As a result, Rep. Fred Upton, R-MI, another Commerce Committee member, drafted legislation to prohibit whatever it was that 602-P was supposed to do.

For example, it would prevent the Federal Communications Commission from imposing any fees for access to the Internet, which is the current interpretation of 602-P. While the FCC has reportedly stated that it had no plans to do such a thing, Upton said he learned that the agency has the authority to do so.

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