Posted on Tue, Jan. 14, 2003 State ban would send a message on spam SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS EDITORIAL There's a key difference between telemarketing and spam. Phone calls cost telemarketers money. Spamming can be done for almost nothing. That means there is a lot more of it. Because it's so cheap, the world of spam also teems with seedy operators and con artists, pitching distasteful and sometimes illegal products and services. But spam also has something in common with telemarketing: Most consumers want it stopped. A recent poll shows that three out of four Internet users want spam outlawed. Congress should take notice. There's never been a better time to discuss federal anti-spam legislation. The Direct Marketing Association, the heavyweight lobby that has been the biggest obstacle to regulations on junk mail, telemarketing and, until recently, spam, did a stunning about-face late last year. Admitting spam had become a scourge, the DMA said it would support federal anti-spam legislation. The DMA's change of heart has limits. The group mainly wants to prohibit forged e-mail headers and require spam to include a legitimate return address for recipients to opt-out of future solicitations. The DMA also wants federal legislation to pre-empt various state laws, which often afford consumers stronger protections. A weak federal law could make things worse, not better. Legislators in Sacramento have an opportunity to mold the debate. By supporting SB 12, an outright ban on spam written by state Sen. Debra Bowen, D-Redondo Beach, they would send a powerful message to Congress. A recent study suggests spam is costing U.S. businesses $9 billion annually in lost productivity. Companies, Internet service providers, government agencies and non-profit groups are spending more every day in software, services and staff to fight spam. Consumers must take time out of their busy days to deal with it. It's more than a nuisance. It ought to be stopped.