Quieter ads, safer internet bills head to Senate floor

It's raining consumer riches in the U.S. Senate. Legislation that could make internet experiences a little safer, TV commercials quieter and some cars a little louder all were sent to the Senate floor by the Senate Commerce Committee.

An internet sales tactic that the committee says has left consumers frustrated and cost them $1.4 billion would be banned by one of the bills. Consumers who bought hotel rooms or other products often on travel web sites and office supply web sites were offered a "bonus" of a 30-day membership in a discount buying club. Among the sites that offered the clubs were Priceline, Classmates and Staples.

The committee held hearings in which consumers complained that not until their credit cards were billed for months of club
membership did they learn that accepting the bonus came at a big cost: The web sites transferred their credit card information to the buying club

Following the hearings, some web sites stopped offering the clubs and on other sites the clubs required consumers to re-enter their credit card numbers before any charges took effect.. Eventually some credit card companies barred the practice.

Still Committee Chairman Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and several other senators told the committee today that it's about time to ban the tactic or transferring credit card numbers without consumers' knowledge.

"At its very core, this is about protecting the American people who deserve every possible safeguard against fraudsters motivated by their desire to rip people off," said Rockefeller. "Websites will no longer be able to trick consumers into signing up for unwanted services and membership clubs."

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said her own mother was one of those entrapped.

"It's especially important for seniors," she said. After seemingly winning the battle to get her mother to use the internet, she said the experience was a major setback.

"I know that after my mom got caught in one of these clubs, she went back to playing bridge for a long time" before returning to using the internet, she said.

TV commercials would get quieter under a second piece of legislation, making TV stations start using an industry loudness standard to keep programs and commercials at the same loudness.

Called the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act -- or CALM -- the legislation is sponsored by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I. Similar legislation sponsored by Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., passed the House last year.

"Today's [committee] action marks an important step toward eliminating at least one of life's many daily stressors," Whitehouse said in a statement after the vote. "This practice is designed to intentionally disturb our households to attract attention to the ad, and the American public has had enough."

The committee also sent to the Senate floor legislation to implement a number of new requirements for cars and reporting of possible defects in the wake of Toyota's troubles with electronic systems to accelerate and brake. It amended that bill today to require that cars - even electric and hybrids -- make some minimum amount of sound.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who proposed the amendment said cars run so quietly that blind people are not aware of them.

"It would be irresponsible if the best new technology to protect the environment inadvertently endangered the blind," he said in a statement.

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