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News Briefs I

Online Firms Settle FCC Complaints

The Washington Post

They promised a "10 free hours to surf the Internet," a "joy ride on the information superhighway," or a "free trial at no risk."

But the federal government says some consumers got a rude surprise when the free ride on several computer online services ended.

Regulators Thursday said America Online, CompuServe, and Prodigy gave consumers inadequate warning that they could incur automatic monthly charges by signing up for free trial offers.

The Federal Trade Commission also alleged that the three services violated consumer protection laws by making unauthorized withdrawals from subscribers' bank accounts.

AOL, CompuServe and Prodigy agreed to settle the government's complaints by promising not to commit such offenses in the future. In the settlements, they neither admitted nor denied wrongdoing.

AOL and Prodigy said they already had made the changes the settlements prescribe.

CompuServe issued a statement saying it "has done nothing wrong" but will take "extra steps requested by the FTC."

FTC officials said many consumers incurred unexpected charges as a result of the violations, but they were unable to measure the cost.

Under the law, the alleged violations carry no monetary penalties, though fines could be assessed for any failure to comply with settlements. The settlements wouldn't become binding until a 60-day public comment period ends and the commission ratifies them.

Witnesses at Bombing Trial Describe an Angry McVeigh

Los Angeles Times

A cousin, a friend from his teen-age years, a fellow gun dealer - they and others took the witness stand Thursday and described the transformation of Timothy J. McVeigh from an average kid in upstate New York to a young man angry at his government and desperate to purchase key components for a bomb.

But none of the half a dozen witnesses said McVeigh actually obtained bomb materials from them - a development that left government prosecutors able to only suggest McVeigh's alleged intention to bomb the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

The witnesses talked about McVeigh's hatred for FBI agents after the 1993 government raid on a religious compound at Waco, Texas, and they detailed a series of phone calls he made in search of detonation cord and racing fuel oil in the months before the bombing of the Murrah building.

Gregory Pfaff, a dealer McVeigh met on the gun show circuit, recalled how the former Army hero telephoned him in the hopes of purchasing detonation cord for an explosive. "He needed it bad," Pfaff said.

He said McVeigh also once told him he was stockpiling weapons. "He said he had some things buried in the woods," Pfaff said. "In case he ever needed them, he knew where they were and nobody else did."

FBI Again Downplays Sabotage In Crash of TWA Flight 800


In his strongest statement yet downplaying sabotage as the cause of the crash of TWA Flight 800, the FBI's chief investigator said Wednesday "the mechanical explanation is looking more likely."

James Kallstrom said while he is still not dismissing the possibility that a bomb or missile downed the Boeing 747 last July 17, "there was no evidence" in all the pieces that have been recovered that anything but an accident had caused the fatal explosion "and we have recovered a lot of the pieces."

He has said recently the two sabotage scenarios could be ruled out within 60 or 90 days. He said, however, that the bureau has not set any date for an FBI pullout of the investigation.

The FBI and the National Transportation Safety Board confirmed Wednesday that dredging operations ceased Tuesday at midnight, a move that makes it unlikely that investigators would find what they call a "eureka piece" of wreckage that would furnish evidence of a cause to the crash, which killed all 230 people on board.