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ISPs form lobbying group

By Alorie Gilbert

Staff Writer, CNET News.com

January 15, 2002, 3:45 p.m. PT

A new lobbying group representing major Internet service providers met with Justice 
Department officials Tuesday to discuss such issues as clarifying how ISPs can work 
with law-enforcement officials during criminal investigations.

The United States Internet Service Provider Association, which includes America 
Online, Cable & Wireless, EarthLink, Verizon Online and WorldCom, formed earlier this 

The security issues came to light in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, when the FBI 
asked several ISPs to assist in a probe of suspected terrorists' e-mail records.

The group is not targeting any specific piece of legislation pertaining to government 
investigations, but would like to define a set of best practices, said Stewart Baker, 
an attorney for the Washington law firm Steptoe & Johnson, who is serving as the 
group's general counsel.

"There are technical and legal limitations on what (the ISPs) can do," Baker said. 
"It's important everybody in the process understands how the technology works and what 
these companies can do."

Another priority of the USISPA is to protect its members from liability under foreign 
law when distributing content that's illegal outside the United States. The ISPs want 
greater protection, said Baker, in cases such as the French government's court 
decision against Yahoo for the auctioning of Nazi memorabilia on its site.

ISPs were also the target of a recent call for greater government oversight of the 
broadband market following the bankruptcies of Excite@Home, Rhythms NetConnections and 
other providers that disrupted and discontinued service to thousands of customers.

The lobby is skeptical that the government will try to regulate the relatively nascent 
broadband industry, according to Baker, but academics don't discount the possibility.

"I would not be surprised if members of Congress decide to have a hearing to 
investigate Excite@Home issues and ensure customers have some guarantees," said Fritz 
J. Messere, chairman of communications studies at State University of New York at 

The lobby's membership includes most of the major ISPs in the industry except 
one--Microsoft. The Redmond, Wash., behemoth's absence is conspicuous, according to 
Messere, and may be a calculated move against an unrelenting competitor, strengthened 
by its victory against the Department of Justice.

"When Microsoft wants to play in a competitive arena they can play awfully hard," said 
Messere. "The lobby may want to ensure Congress hears an alternative voice."

The fact that Verizon Online is part of the lobby is a sign that the major ISPs are 
willing to work with the Baby Bells in the interest of a common cause, despite 
historical differences over access to local networks.


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