Craig in AR: COMMITTEE SLAPS THE NET — AGAIN [cr-951213]


Richard Moore

by Craig A. Johnson
American Reporter Correspondent
Washington, D.C.

                       by Craig A. Johnson
                 American Reporter Correspondent

        WASHINGTON -- "Indecency" language, as defined for broadcast media
by the Federal Communications Commission, seems now to be superglued onto
the telecommunications reform bill.
        The "indecency" amendment for online communications, voted upon
last week by House conferees in a special caucus, was not discussed
yesterday during a truncated joint House-Senate conference committee.
Instead, the leadership handed out to members a descriptive list of 46
items agreed upon at the staff level, and a handful of technical issues
were gone over once lightly before adjournment.
        With the demolition of Rep. Rick White's (D-Wash.) proposal last week
to substitute what many considered a more lenient "harmful to minors"
standard, most hopes for a middle ground have evaporated. In meetings with
members of the conference committee after its adjournment, this reporter
learned that last week's full-throttled assault on the Net by the
Christian Coalition's congressional choir boy, Judiciary Committee
chairman Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), had inflicted mortal wounds on efforts to
rescue the Net from the "indecency" straitjacket.
        Given the numbingly complex and politically explosive issues the
committee has yet to resolve, including media concentration and the
conditions for Bell company entrance into long distance, the sad fact is
that most members seem glad to be rid of the Internet ball and chain.
        Rep. Pat Schroeder (D-Colo.) tried three times to persuade the
committee to accept a measure calling for the distribution of staff
recommendations, vetted by the leadership, at least 24 hours in advance of
a conference meeting and vote.  She had no luck.  House Commerce Committee
chairman Thomas Bliley was having none of it, and replied only, "We'll do
the best we can."  Schroeder, clearly exasperated and dumbfounded,
exclaimed, "It's like a bag of smoke, and I can't figure out what's going
        Schroeder voted for the Goodlatte amendment last week that put the
torch to the original proposal by Rep. White to substitute "harmful
to children" for "indecency." There is a widespread impression that
Schroeder voted for the Goodlatte amendment without really having time to
examine the implications of her actions or the alternative White proposal.
         Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), in response to a reporter's
question, said that the "indecency" issue was a very good example of
something that members had needed more time to study and debate. She
implied that members were sandbagged by the leadership, and did not have
time to fully understand the implications of what they were voting for.
        Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) informed reporters that there had been
no movement away from the restrictive indecency standard approved last
week by House conferees on a 17-16 vote.  He foresaw no politically
feasible way of going back to a more palatable solution for online
providers and users.
        Boucher said that there probably would be language protecting
service carriers and providers from liability in the final bill -- the
so-called "defenses to prosecution," and "good faith" efforts included in
the Exon measure and the stillborn White proposal.
        The telecom staffer for Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Colin Crowell
(whose boss believes the indecency standard is unconstitional and will not
withstand court challenges), agreed.  He explained to reporters that
negotiations between interactive service providers and online civil
liberties organizations had fallen through, and that attempts at language
that would move the definition of "indecency" back to a more pragmatic,
narrow, serviceable construct had been largely abortive.
        In short, the committee is attempting to build a four-humped
camel from parts of the original Exon and Hyde measures in the bills --
and perhaps grafting on some of White's language, which grants more
generous protection to service providers who carry content and actively
try to keep "indecent" materials from being transmitted to minors.
        This observer came away with the strong impression that the
committee fully intends to abrogate the First Amendment as it applies to
the Internet, despite some members' visible discomfort with the results.



 Posted by Richard K. Moore (•••@••.•••) Wexford, Ireland
 CyberRights co-leader  | Cyberlib=