Calif. Enacts E-Mail Shutdown Rules


A new California law would prevent consumers from having to deal with the type of electronic-mail loss suffered when troubled cable-modem service provider @Home Corp. abruptly shut down by penalizing ISPs that fail to give 30 days notice that e-mail will be terminated.

The measure, signed recently by Calif. Gov. Gray Davis, adds punitive language to the state's business and professions code. An ISP now faces misdemeanor charges and a $1,000 fine per violation if it shutters e-mail service without providing sufficient notice.

The law differentiates between external e-mail providers — Internet-based, free services such as Microsoft Corp.'s Hotmail or that offered by Yahoo! Inc. — and those that provision e-mail as part of a paid Internet transport service, such as a cable operator.

ISPs can still cut a consumer off from e-mail without warning for violations of terms of service.

The bill was sponsored by state Sen. Debra Bowen (D-Redondo Beach). "Allowing an ISP to tell customers, 'Thanks for playing, good night,' and unplugging them with absolutely no notice whatsoever, leaving people with e-mail and Web pages stored on an ISP's servers hanging out to dry, is unacceptable," she said in a prepared statement.

The notice requirements exceed those for gas utilities (10 days) or video providers (15 days), but are comparable to rules for long-distance providers. That's because e-mail service has become a vital part of people's lives, Bowen said.

The February shutdown of @Home's data-over-cable network angered legislators. While other MSOs negotiated transition agreements with the company prior to the switch-off, AT&T Broadband did not, according to Bowen.

As a result, the termination left 850,000 AT&T subscribers without e-mail. (The Excite@Home Internet portal was rapidly replaced with that of AT&T WorldNet.)

In the meantime, the outage disrupted AT&T customers in California, including those in the state capital of Sacramento.

Hardware fee veto

During the flurry of bill signings at the end of the legislative session, the governor also vetoed a bill that would have added a $10 fee to the purchase of all television sets and computer hardware.

Senate Bill 1523 intended to raise money to fund the recycling of hazardous waste from electronics products. It would have added 64 members to the California Integrated Waste Management Board to distribute grants to waste haulers, recyclers and cities.

Davis also spiked a companion bill that included an aggressive timetable for development of recycling programs. Opponents — including the Consumer Electronics Association and the Electronic Industries Alliance — said the bill would place California-based businesses at a disadvantage. The tax would not apply to buys over the Internet.