A bill to regulate unsolicited commercial email, or spam, was overwhelmingly passed by the US House Commerce Committee yesterday.

The bill has been passed on a fast track, pushed by legislators responding to complaints about junk email from Internet users and ISPs (Internet service providers).

Spam has become a critical consumer protection issue, according to a release issued Wednesday by Representative Heather Wilson, one of the sponsors of the bill.

America Online (AOL) estimates that 30 per cent of its email traffic is spam, other ISPs have complained that spam clogs their systems, causing slower service for their customers and sometimes crashing their systems, according to Wilson's release.

The Spam Unsolicited Electronic Mail Act passed by the House Commerce Committee Wednesday sets several requirements for email that is defined as spam. The bill would require unsolicited commercial email to carry an accurate return address, force ‘spammers’ to stop sending email after users request to be removed from the distribution list, and prohibit spam senders from gleaning email addresses from Internet registrars.

Under the terms of the bill, ISPs would also have the right to sue senders of unsolicited commercial email for $500 per message if they violate the policy. The bill will be forwarded to the House of Representatives.