WASHINGTON -- A bill that calls for fines if a marketer deluges Internet users with unsolicited e-mail moved closer to passage Wednesday as a House committee unanimously approved the measure.
The House bill is closely modeled after telemarketing regulations, and its sponsor said the need to bring those standards to the Internet age is far overdue.
"Consumers should have the same power to stop junk e-mail from invading their home as they do with junk mail, telemarketing and junk faxes," said Rep. Heather Wilson (R, N.M.). "This bill will give parents and consumers the power to say enough is enough and close their inbox to annoying and obscene junk e-mail."
The bill requires those sending unsolicited commercial e-mail messages -- often called spam -- to provide a valid return e-mail address so recipients can serve notice that they want to be taken off the mailing list.
The Federal Trade Commission would be given the authority to bring action against senders of spam who violate the provisions of the legislation. Internet-service providers could also sue spammers in federal court for $500 per message, up to $50,000, if a spammer willfully breaks the law.
The bill, having passed the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, is now clear for a floor vote. Last year, the House overwhelmingly approved an antispam bill, but a similar bill in the Senate was introduced late in the session and never came to a full vote.
A Senate version of the bill was reintroduced on Tuesday by three lawmakers.
"For many people, spam is ruining their online experience and their ability to use e-mail," said Sen. Conrad Burns (R., Mont.). "It's high time Congress act to protect consumers from overzealous marketers."
The Senate bill is co-sponsored by Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden and Joseph Lieberman.
Several trade groups, including the Direct Marketing Association, have opposed antispam bills, but the legislators said this year will be different.
"The staff has taken the time to talk to industry folks about their concerns and work out legislation that's good for everybody," Wyden spokeswoman Carol Guthrie said.
Jerry Cerasale, vice president for government affairs at the DMA, said his group is happier with the Senate version this time and is confident that a compromise can be negotiated.
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