Tech Bills That Failed in the 105th Congress

(October 26, 1998)  Despite the passage of many Internet and tech related bills in the 105th Congress, many others failed to pass.  Among these were bills relating to encryption, blocking software, Internet gambling, the e-rate, slamming, and spamming.   Many of these topics will be taken up again in the 106th Congress next year.

Blocking Software.  The Safe Schools Internet Act (S 1619 and HR 3177) would have amended 47 USC 254 to require that elementary and secondary schools, and libraries, receiving federal Internet access subsidies to "install" blocking software.  This proposal would have affected all schools and libraries receiving "e-rate" subsidies.  S 1619, sponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), passed in the Senate.  However, no action was taken on the House version of the bill.

A slightly broader piece of legislation was originally attached to a House appropriations bill, but taken out of the final Omnibus Appropriations Act.  The Child Protection Act, sponsored by Rep. Ernest Istook (R-OK), would have required that any elementary or secondary school or public library, that receives federal funds "for the acquisition or operation of any computer that is accessible to minors and that has access to the Internet," to "install software on that computer ... to prevent minors from obtaining access to any obscene information using that computer," and to "ensure that such software is operational whenever that computer is used by minors ..."

The Istook proposal was broader than the McCain bill on two grounds.  First, it covered more computers.  Second, it not only required that schools and libraries "install" blocking software, like the McCain bill; it also required that schools and libraries actually use the software for its intended purpose.

Similar legislation is sure to be introduced next year.  The chances for passage of a bill are good.  And, the ACLU type organizations are sure to challenge any such legislation in federal court.

Encryption.  Several bills were introduced that would have guaranteed the right to use and export strong encryption products.  The main proposals were HR 695, S 377, S 909, and S 2067.   None passed.

HR 695, the Safety and Freedom Through Encryption Act (SAFE), was sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), and about half of the House of Representatives.  S 377, the Promotion of Commerce Online in the Digital Age Act (ProCODE), was sponsored by Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT).  S 909, the Secure Public Networks Act, was sponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy (R-VT).  S 2067, the E-Privacy Act, was a "compromise bill" introduced in May.

Encryption legislation had strong bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate.  However, these bills were opposed by the Clinton-Gore administration, and especially the FBI, and some key members of Congress.

There is some good news for the proponents of encryption legislation.  One of the key backers of the FBI position was Rep. Gerald Solomon (R-NY), who is Chairman of the House Rules Committee.  The committee's gatekeeping function can be used to delay or kill bills.  Rep. Solomon is retiring, and will probably be replaced by Rep. David Dreier (R-CA) who is a supporter of encryption legislation.  Several other FBI proponents are also retiring, including Rep. Thomas Manton (D-NY).

E-rate Bills.  The controversy over the Federal Communications Commissions handling of the e-rate produced several bills to reform or eliminate the program.  These included HR 4032, HR 4065, HR 4324, and S 2348.  No bill was passed.  

HR 4324 and S 2348, the Schools and Libraries Internet Access Act, wase sponsored by Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-LA) and Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT).  These bills would have reformed the schools and libraries program by terminating the Schools and Libraries Corp., shifting administration of the program from the FCC to the NTIA, ending universal service funding, funding the program out of the existing excise tax on phones, and distributing funds to the states in the form of block grants.  It was the only e-rate proposal that received a hearing.

HR 4065 was Rep. Joe Scarborough's (R-FL) bill to terminate the e-rate's funding.  HR 4032 was Rep. James Sensenbrenner's (R-WI) bill to delete subsections of Section 254 pertaining to the e-rate.

The 106th Congress will likely take up the issue of the e-rate, as well as the organization of the Federal Communications Commission.

Internet Gambling.  The Senate passed Sen. Jon Kyl's (R-AZ) Internet Gambling Act, S 474, with a 90 vote majority last July.   However, the companion bill, HR 2380, sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), did not pass.

The sponsor of the Senate bill, Sen. Coats, is retiring, but someone else is likely to introduce a similar bill.  The only opposition to the bill comes from the online gaming industry, and some people who oppose any regulation of the Internet.

Internet Protection Act. This bill, HR 2372, was introduced by Rep. Rick White (R-WA).  It would have amended the Telecommunications Act of 1934 to prohibit the Federal Communications Commission from regulating the Internet.  The House took no action on the bill.

Slamming and Spamming.   These are actually two separate and distinct issues.  However, in both the House and Senate these two issues were dealt with together.  Both the House and Senate passed an anti-slamming and anti-spamming bill.  In the final days, a compromise version could to be reached, and the legislation died.

The House passed its anti-slamming and anti-spamming bill, HR 3888, on October 12.  The Senate passed its bill, S 1689 ES, on May 12, 1998.  It included the original McCain anti-slamming bill, S 1689 IS, the Murkowski anti-spamming bill, S 771, and the Rockefeller "Truth in Billing" amendment.

The FCC already has statutory authority to deal with slamming.  It simply has not exercised its authority.  Congress may not pass an anti-slamming bill in the next Congress.  However, the Congress is more likely to return to the issue of spamming.