Objections fly around sat bill

Solons, online companies moving to change, block law

WASHINGTON — Congress’ plan to pass a bill that would allow the satellite industry to deliver local signals is getting bogged down as new objections are being raised to the legislation.

Powerful Senate Commerce Committee chairman Phil Gramm (R-Texas) has vowed to block the law unless he gets a loan guarantee for rural subscribers removed. And now online service providers such as America Online object to a provision that would bar them from putting local TV station programming on the Internet. Some patent holders, too, are among those who have raised concerns about the legislation.

The problems have erupted even after the House voted 411-8 in favor of the legislation. It has not yet passed the Senate.

Outcome uncertain

“Mass confusion and uncertainty prevail,” said one congressional staffer in summing up the legislative situation. But one broadcast industry source predicted that in the end the legislation will pass. “This is a very popular bill,” the lobbyist said.

Hollywood has never liked the idea that the Internet could become a conduit for someone in one city to watch programming that originates in another. Not only does it weaken the value of a movie or television show by making it universally available for the price of a local copyright fee, but it also increases opportunities for pirates. For the same reasons, sports leagues are also concerned about the ability of Web surfers to download games that are meant for broadcast in other regions.

Patent objections

Small-patent holders are raising concerns about the bill, and more objections are likely to emerge as long as it lies in bicameral limbo.

House and Senate staffers are scrambling to resolve the issues, but the clock is ticking. Congress plans to adjourn next week and is not expected to reconvene until after Christmas.