A panel of House lawmakers, racing to pass sweeping telecom deregulation legislation, voted last week to attach to the bill language offered by Rep. Henry Hyde (R-111.) that would bar companies from sending “indecent” transmissions and other smut to minors over the Internet.

The 17-16 anti-cyberporn vote was considered a big win for the Christian Coalition.

The razor-thin vote margin means it is now a virtual reality that any telecom bill that emerges from Congress will include a crackdown on computer porn. Lawmakers hope to send a bill to President Clinton by Christmas.

Radical overhaul

Passage of Hyde’s cyberspace proposal came as a House-Senate conference committee resolved most of the minor differences in legislation passed by the two houses of Congress. The bill constitutes the most radical overhaul of communications law in 61 years.

Conferees also:

* Approved the House version of a Vchip proposal, ensuring that new TV sets will be equipped with computer circuitry making it possible for parents to block out objectionable programming.

* Established eight-year license terms for TV and radio stations, up from the current terms of five and seven years.

* Hiked the penalties for broadcasting obscene language on radio or cable TV from $10,000 to $100,000.

* Required cable operators to fully scramble programming deemed “unsuitable for children.”

Due to be voted on perhaps as early as Dec. 12, were the most critical issues still before law makers. Those include the extent to which media concentration will be permitted locally and nationally; the terms of the Baby Bell telephone company entry into the long distance phone market; and when cable TV rates will be deregulated.

Close to settlement

The latter issue is close to settlement, with cable price controls likely to be lifted in slightly more than three years.

Rep. Thomas Bliley (R-Va.) claimed that lawmakers “are within days of wrapping up this conference,” but others were skeptical. A final vote by both the full House and Senate is required before the bill can go to the White House.

President Clinton has threatened to veto the bill if issues such as cable-rate regulation, media concentration and Bell entry into long distance aren’t resolved to his liking.

Earlier in the week Home Shopping Network chairman Barry Diller raised eyebrows in the broadcast industry with a call for tougher public interest requirements on free over-the-air TV stations.

In an op-ed piece in Dec. 4’s New York Times, Diller wrote that broadcasters should “establish a line, no matter how amorphous, beyond which sex, violence and exploitation cannot go.”

Paradoxically, Diller is the man who gave America “Studs” and “Married… With Children” during his tenure at Fox Broadcasting.

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