Internet Access Charge Hoax Refuses to Die

A long-running hoax claims that Congress wants to slap a charge on Internet access, forcing users to pay up every time they log-on. It’s a sibling of sorts to the notorious “602P” e-mail that claims the U.S. Postal Service is trying to implement a 5 cent charge on e-mail, and like that other hoax, it’s simply not true.

It’s simply not true.

Here’s the original e-mail:

Date Collected: Dec. 12, 1999

Date: Wednesday, January 06, 1999 10:03 PM

Looks like Congress has found another way to tax us.

There is a new bill in US Congress that will be affecting all Internet users. You might want to read this and pass it on. CNN stated that the government would in two weeks time decide to allow or not allow a charge to your (OUR) phone bill each time you access the internet.

Please visit the following URL and fill out the necessary form!

The address is http://www.house.gov/writerep/

If EACH one of us, forward this message on to others in a hurry, we may be able to prevent this from happening! (Maybe we CAN fight the phone company!)

The hoax may have originated based on an actual issue the Federal Communications Commission once debated, involving reciprocal payments between phone companies. However that issue never involved per-use charges for customers. The FCC’s site says definitively that “The bottom line is that the FCC has no intention of assessing per-minute charges on Internet traffic or changing the way consumers obtain and pay for access to the Internet.”

But the hoax lives on. And like all hoaxes, there are some elements that help us debunk it:

  • No specific bill number is noted: Every bill moving through the House of Representatives or the Senate has a bill number. If you get an e-mail claiming that a bill is about to be passed, but said e-mail doesn’t tell you what the number of the bill is, its probably a hoax. Of course, this isn’t fool-proof — the 602P e-mail surcharge hoax appears to have a bill number, but it’s an invalid one. Still, it’s a hint that’s something wrong.
  • No attribution: The hoax provides one working link — to the “Contact your Representative” page of the House’s Web site … but it doesn’t include a single link to an actual news story about this charge, nor does it include links to any of the many advocacy sites that would be against the charge. (like, say, the Cato Institute or the Electronic Freedom Foundation). No attribution, or poor attribution, usually means you’re dealing with a hoax.
  • Where’s the news? This hoax, like many hoaxes, makes a huge claim, but if its so huge, why aren’t any of the television stations, technology Web sites, or newspapers reporting on it? If the House or the Senate were really getting ready to vote on this, it would easily make the front page the New York Times, and would be on most of the evening news programs.

All of this is enough to invoke some serious doubts in the mind of the reader. But you don’t have to rely on hunches — you can go straight to these sources:

  • The FCC’s debunking: The FCC’s Web site offers an explanation as to how this hoax may have come about, and then flat out denies that it’s planning any such charges.
  • The EFF’s debunking: The Electronic Freedom Foundation, which has made defending the net it’s top priority, lists a variant of this e-mail as a hoax.
  • About.com’s Urban Legends Guide: The Electronic Freedom Foundation, which has made defending the net it’s top priority, lists a variant of this e-mail as a hoax.