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FCC Penalizes Dial-a-Porn Companies

July 30, 1988|MELANIE SCHAFFNER | Youth News Service

WASHINGTON — Two California-based companies that operate sexually explicit telephone message services were fined $600,000 each by the Federal Communications Commission for failing to restrict minors' access to their services.

The penalties against Mill Valley's Audio Enterprises and Intercambio Inc. in San Jose were the result of FCC investigations prompted by parental complaints. The fines, imposed in April, were the first actions by the FCC against the controversial dial-a-porn services.

A letter to the FCC from a woman in Michigan said her 10-year-old daughter was molested by two teen-aged brothers after all three had listened to an Audio Enterprises sexually explicit message. The complaints about Intercambio came from a woman who said that her 16-year-old son's behavior toward girls was altered and that he required psychotherapy after listening to dial-a-porn messages more than 280 times in a two-month period.

The services are "the ultimate in sleazy, and it deserves the ultimate penalty we can prescribe," FCC Commissioner James H. Quello said.

The FCC action came one day after Congress passed an education bill containing an amendment prohibiting dial-a-porn services on interstate phone lines. In-state services would not be affected by the bill, which was signed by President Reagan.

The law--which has not gone into effect yet pending a lawsuit filed in federal court in Los Angeles by a company that provides dial-a-porn service and an anonymous group of "consenting adults"--applies only to interstate dial-a-porn calls and those in the District of Columbia. But most dial-a-porn services use a 976 prefix and must be reached from a local exchange. Only in California and a few other states can they be reached by long distance with an area code.

The law does not distinguish between live and recorded phone communications.

It provides for both criminal and civil prosecution and carries penalties of up to $100,000 for each day of violation and imprisonment of up to six months.

Dial-a-porn is estimated to produce about $54 million a year in revenue for providers and phone companies, according to the Information Industry Bulletin.

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