A Federal Trade Commission report released yesterday has suggested that wine sales over the internet do not increase the risk of underage drinking.

The report also said that e-commerce offers consumers lower prices and more choices in the wine market, and that states could expand e-commerce by permitting direct shipping of wine to consumers.

The study found that state bans on direct shipping prevent consumers from saving as much as 21% on some wines and from conveniently purchasing many popular wines from suppliers around the country.

FTC Chairman Timothy J. Muris said: "E-commerce can offer consumers lower prices, greater choices, and increased convenience. In wine and other markets, however, anticompetitive barriers to e-commerce are depriving consumers of those benefits."

In addition to its findings regarding competition, the report concluded that states can limit sales to minors through less-restrictive means than an outright ban on direct shipping.

"According to officials from a dozen states that allow direct shipping, these states typically require that a supplier verify the recipient's age and obtain an adult signature before delivering the wine. Many states also require that a supplier obtain a permit to ship wine to consumers within the state. Of the states that have adopted such less-restrictive safeguards, most report few or no problems with direct shipments to minors, " a statement from the FTC said.

"We also found no evidence suggesting that direct shipping increases underage drinking beyond the levels attributable to sales by brick-and-mortar stores," Muris said. "Unfortunately, the evidence shows that adolescents currently can obtain alcohol without going to the trouble and expense of ordering it over the Internet."