"Tell them what you think," the message urged. "Every phone company is in on this one, and they are trying to sneak it in just under the wire for legislation."
Walsh checked it out by going to the FCC's Web site, where he found a note saying the e-mail message was inaccurate.
Numerous recipients of that and similar messages didn't take that route, however, said FCC officials, who blame the misleading information for a recent flood of phone calls and e-mail responses on the issue.
The FCC early last year decided to continue exempting Internet service providers from the kind of per-minute interstate access charges that long-distance companies pay local telephone companies to use their switching stations and other equipment, said FCC attorney Rich Lerner.
But the local phone companies - including Bell Atlantic Corp. in this area - weren't satisfied and asked a federal appeals court to overturn the decision, Lerner said.
While the decision could be overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, which heard an appeal of the decision earlier this month, the time for public comment is long over, he said.
The FCC was taking comments from the public on access fees for Internet service providers in late 1996 and early 1997.
The erroneous e-mail campaign seems to have started around the end of 1997 with an unknown source recycling an old e-mail message on the issue, Lerner said.
Messages like the one Walsh received have been popping up in area e-mail boxes, said Clint Wiley, president of Hagerstown-based New Frontiers Internet Service, which serves customers in Washington and Frederick counties.
"From time to time, I get it forwarded to me," Wiley said. "As far as I can tell, it's one of those urban myths."
So many people acted on the recent message that FCC officials decided to post a note on the agency's Web site, which includes background and an update on the issue, Lerner said.
As far as Bell Atlantic is concerned, it's a matter of fairness, said Bell Atlantic spokeswoman Susan Butta.
The exemption was given in the early 1980s to help the Internet industry, then in its early stages, and no longer applies, Butta said.
Bell Atlantic isn't asking to charge a fee as high as those it charges long-distance companies, she said.
It just wants some kind of mechanism that would allow it to recover the costs that Internet service providers impose on its network, Butta said.
"We have to make big investments to handle the traffic," she said.
You can visit the FCC Web site at http://www.fcc.gov.