- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 11, 2004

The Federal Communications Commission yesterday said it would examine ways to protect Americans from being barraged by unwanted e-mail, or spam, on their cell phones or other wireless devices.

The FCC is seeking public comment on how to craft rules to regulate wireless spam, and will explore ways to allow cell-phone users to inform marketers they don’t want spam.

The nation’s first federal antispam law, known as the Can-Spam Act, requires the FCC to create rules governing wireless spam by the end of September.

“American consumers have every right to expect that their cell phones will be spam-free zones,” FCC Chairman Michael Powell said in a statement.

There are more than 156 million wireless subscribers in the United States, and many already have received unwanted advertisements via text messaging. As cell phones and other devices become more advanced, technology experts believe spammers will target them.

Wireless spam is an enormous problem in Europe and Japan, where more than half the population has Web access on their cell phone and carriers process hundreds of millions of spam messages each day.

Wireless spam is only one of more than a dozen provisions in the Can-Spam Act that are still being developed.

The Federal Trade Commission began seeking public comment yesterday on nearly every other aspect of the Can-Spam Act, including the kind of e-mail messages that should be regulated under the law and the feasibility of a system that rewards people who supply information about spammers.

“We’re asking for public comment on everything we can under the Can-Spam Act,” said Michael Goodman, a staff lawyer with the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “We basically just want to hear from the public on these issues.”

The Can-Spam Act has numerous provisions that require clarification. For instance, the law requires e-mail marketers to include a physical mailing address in all advertisements, but does not appear to exclude post office boxes. In addition, the law requires marketers to comply with a request to opt out of a mailing list within 10 days, but allows the FTC to consider changing the time limit.

The public can offer its input on all of these issues online at the government’s rulemaking Web site, www.regulations.gov.

The FTC this week said at least 10 companies responded to a request for input regarding the proposed “Do Not E-mail” registry modeled after the successful “Do Not Call” list. Companies were asked how they would build and manage the list. The FTC is required to issue a plan of action on the list by the end of June.

FTC Chairman Timothy Muris said yesterday he is skeptical that a national antispam list will mean less unwanted e-mail for computer users. Speaking at a conference sponsored by the Consumer Federation of America, Mr. Muris said he does not see a way in which the list can be enforced.

The commission is facing many deadlines under the Can-Spam Act. It must issue a report to establish a reward system by September, and by June of 2005 must devise a way to tell the difference between commercial e-mail and regular e-mail.

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