More than a thousand World Wide Web pages donned mourning colors Thursday to protest provisions of a new telecommunications law.
Web site owners put black background on their home pages to signify grief over the telecommunications reform ill that President Clinton signed Thursday. They believe it will diminish their First Amendment right to free speech. In addition to coloring their pages black, most web site owners included an explanation of the protest.The World Wide Web is the graphical part of the Internet, with text as well as sound and pictures. The Deseret News could find only one Utah-related web page darkened as part of the protest - "Utah by Nerd World Media" - though there may be others.
The focal point of the protest is language in the telecommunications bill that allows fines of $250,000 and jail sentences of two years for any one who makes "indecent" material available to minors in a public forum online. The bill marks the first time Congress has dealt specifically with content on the Internet.
Organizers of the protest say existing laws already prohibit use of the Internet to transmit sexually explicit material and that broadcast-style restrictions are inappropriate for the interactive medium. They also say tools are available that allow individuals to screen Internet content, which leaves such decisions in the hands of individuals rather than the federal government.
"If parents can keep kids from pilfering their bank account, they can keep a child from accessing inappropriate material on the Internet," said Jonah Seiger, policy analyst for the Center for Democracy and Technology.
But Congress voted overwhelmingly in favor of the bill. The Utah delegation gave it unanimous support.
Scott Olson, legislative director for Rep. Bill Orton, D-Utah, said that while some parts of the bill may need tweaking in the future, overall it makes huge strides in moving telecommunications into the 21st century.
There is a sense that inappropriate material is being made available to minors via the Internet, Olson said, though only time will tell if the bill's provisions to control such material are constitutional or overly restrictive.
If the bill proves unworkable, Congress can revisit it, Olson said.
The Center for Democracy and Technology plans to file a lawsuit in federal court to fight the legislation. The center and Voters Telecommunication Watch joined forces with dozens of organizations to put on the World Wide Web black out, which is schedule to continue through today.
The Coalition to Stop Net Censorship includes the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Council for the Arts, the Boston Coalition for Freedom of Expression, the Well, Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Libertarian Party, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, National Writers Union, People for the American Way, Web Review Magazine and Wired Magazine.
Nationally, hundreds of web sites - including some of the most prominent pages - have joined the "thousand points of darkness" protest. America Online's WebCrawler site is dark.
So are sites for Yahoo!, the Princeton Review, the University of South Maine, HomePC magazine, the Internet Mall, Arlo Guthrie WWW site, San Diego Children's Hospital, the Internet Public Library, Compuserve's Homepage of the Week, the Software Publishers Association and the city of Houston's home page.
"The protest is intended to show the broad and far-reaching impact this legislation will have on all Internet users," Seiger said. "If Congress enacted the same legislation applied to print media, the courts wouldn't take more than five minutes to throw it out."