WASHINGTON (AP) -- America Online and other Internet companies could be shut out of delivering local TV to their customers under a satellite TV bill passed by the House. Language in the bill could stifle the ability of Internet providers to become competitors of cable television and satellite companies as deliverers of broadcast programming, House Commerce Committee Chairman Tom Bliley, R-Va., complained Wednesday.
"The importance of the Internet and other online communications technologies for enhancing consumer access to information and programming cannot be overstated," Bliley wrote in a letter to the House Judiciary Committee.
The issue has to do with blanket licenses that currently make it possible for cable companies to carry local programming without having to hammer out individual copyright agreements. The House bill would give satellite companies similar licensed authority to offer local stations to their subscribers.
In merging Senate and House bills on the issue, lawmakers inserted a provision excluding any "digital online-communication service" from licenses to carry broadcast programming. Internet service providers and other technology companies now want the provision removed.
"Communications is changing so quickly today no one knows what the future holds. We and others in the industry don't think it makes sense for Congress to close any doors particularly when there has not even been a debate or public airing of the issue," said AOL spokeswoman Kathy McKiernan.
The chairman of the judiciary panel's subcommittee on courts and intellectual property, Howard Coble, R-N.C., pledged Tuesday night to work with the Commerce Committee to resolve the issue before Congress recesses later this week or next week.
But the director of the Copyright Office questioned Wednesday whether Internet companies should ever have the same licensed authority as cable and satellite companies to carry television broadcasting. "Congress has properly concluded that the Internet should be largely free of regulation, but the lack of such regulation makes the Internet a poor candidate for a compulsory license ...," Marybeth Peters, Register of Copyrights, wrote to Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., a key architect behind the satellite legislation.
The National Association of Broadcasters also said it supports the bill as passed by the House and doesn't want the provision lifted. "The Internet service providers are trying to pull an end run on fundamental copyright law," said NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton.