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Next: 5.5 Getting Clipped Up: 5 The legal issue: Previous: 5.3 A Chip with

5.4 Uncle Sam is Listening

The telephone industry, after fighting this act tooth and nail, is slowly getting used to the idea. Its problem with the bill is not so much privacy considerations as a well-grounded fear that retrofitting older digital equipment and new digital phone systems will cost it a fortune in unnecessary expenses. The government will be supplying $500 million for retrofitting existing systems, but the telephone companies fear this will only be the first down payment on a bill that could swell to the billions of dollars.

The telephone companies have some small protection from a never-ending spiral of wiretapping bills. The legislation only requires that they pay `reasonably achievable ` costs. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will decide, on a case by case basis, what costs fall into this category. If the FCC judges the costs unreasonable, a telephone company could petition the attorney general for funds to accomplish the operation. If the attorney general doesn't reimburse the company, the phone company could refuse to comply, remaining on the right side of the law.

Denis Arnaud