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Budget deal includes Internet censorship act


The American Civil Liberties Union and 16 other First Amendment protection groups filed a lawsuit last Thursday to prevent enforcement of the Child Online Protection Act, which supporters say is aimed at keeping children safe on the Internet.

The ACLU and other opponents say the act unfairly regulates online pornography because it makes it a crime to post content that would be otherwise legal for an adult to possess.

The law is aimed at placing restrictions on the growing number of commercial pornographic Web site. The intent was to restrict inappropriate content often given away by commercial porn sites for free to attract commercial subscribers.

Specifically, the act targets free distribution of material that lacks "scientific, artistic or literary value to minors" -- but critics say lots of free information on the Web aimed at adults lacks value to children.

The new law could restrict the availability of information related to obstetrics and gynocology online, as well as restrict access to sites pertaining to AIDS.

The law -- tacked onto the $500 billion Omnibus Appropriations bill signed Wednesday by President Bill Clinton -- restricts adult material that is already protected by the free speech provisions of the Constitution, opponents contend.

The penalties are stiff -- maximum fines of up to $100,000 a day and six months in jail.

The Child Online Protection Act requires commercial porn sites to verify the recipent is 17 years of age or older by using a credit card, debit card, password, PIN number or access code.

The law is set to go into effect in 30 days unless the courts issue an injunction.

Look for another court battle -- one that may rival the one staged to protest -- and block -- the Communications Decency Act of 1996.

BROWSER BOOGIE. As lawyers on both sides of the government's antitrust action against Microsoft fight it out, are continuing to look to push their products forward.

Netscape's latest browser suite, Communicator 4.5, received the company's official "gold" rating last Monday.

This new version includes the basic Navigator Web browser, but offers much more, and is closely tied to its Web "portal" site, the Netscape Netcenter.

Communicator's ties to Netcenter aren't a hindrance to using the Web. In fact, if you take advantage of the features, they're quite an asset.

One new feature I've come to enjoy using is called "Smart Browsing."

This feature allows the user to type in a company name in the address window instead of the usual "http://," "www," or the "com."

If the Smart Browsing feature can't determine what company or Web site you're searching for, it conducts a search its Netcenter Web site and gives you a list of Web sites matching the term or terms you entered.

In fact, you can initiate a search by entering a phrase in the browser address window -- no need to click your way to a search engine -- a useful feature and real time saver.

Another useful tool is a new button on the toolbar called "What's Related."

This button offers a list of Web sites that offer related information -- a method to get a quick look at what else is out there that you might be interested in without leaving the page you're on.

Communicator includes a custom version of the AOL Instant Messenger, which gives you the ability to exchange "Instant Messages" with AOL subscribers and other Instant Messenger users.

I've used this feature extensively, and it's easy to setup and use. If you've ever used AOL's IM feature, you'll like Instant Messenger.

Comunicator also features an improved version of its Messenger e-mail client, and the latest RealNetworks RealPlayer.

IE5 PREVIEW. If you're heavy into Web page development and the like, you might want to take a peek at the next version of Microsoft' Web browser, Internet Explorer 5.0.

This is an early, under-development sneak peek, and the software is only available for download from Microsoft's Site Builder Network Web site at www.microsoft.com/sitebuilder/.

There aren't a bunch of consumer-oriented improvements with IE 5.0 -- most of what's new involves new tools for Webmasters and Web content developers.

Look for IE 5.0 Beta 2 to be posted to Microsoft's Web site soon -- and reports say that it will have the real look and feel of the up-and-coming IE 5.0, which is due out early next year.

NO MONEY IN MODEMS. With current modem technology held by back government restrictions for phone line speed and other problems, manufacturers are faced with a dilemma: What product do they manufacture now?

Sure, 56k modems will continue to sell, but manufacturers need new innovation, new products to push -- and the top two likely candidates are cable modems and DSL adapters.

Unlike old-fashioned -- and cheap -- analog modems, the new technologies present new problems of their own.

The lack of a set standard for DSL will hinder widespread deployment -- which is only available in about 20 major metropolitan areas at present.

Cable systems must be upgraded to allow two-way communications, an expensive and time-consuming proposition. Two-way cable is now estimated to be available in 20 percent of the U.S.

And then consider corporate America, which needs fast Internet, intranet and extranet access ASAP -- and it isn't hard to see why low-tech alternatives (56k leased lines, 56k modems, etc.) are still in widespread use.

LEXIS-NEXIS ONLINE. Miamisburg, Ohio-based Lexis-Nexis has finally opened shop on the Internet.

The research data company has long been a tool used by journalists, researchers, investors and other professionals interested in searching the company's 20-year archive of records, documents and publications.

The Web browser-based service, Lexis-Nexis Universe, offers 99 percent of the company's available data, which includes more than 1.7 billion documents from almost 24,000 sources.

Pricing for the company's content depends on contract duration and the type of content you want to subscribe to and the number of users you'll have.

See their Web site for additional details.

Comments and questions about this column may be sent to jbrooks@myoldkentuckyhome.com, or visit www.myoldkentuckyhome.com on the World Wide Web.

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