House Panel Passes Telco Video Bill

WASHINGTON A House panel on Wednesday passed legislation to make it easier for telephone companies to launch video services offering hundreds of TV channels.

The passage marked an initial step on a lengthy legislative road for the measure, which would trim localities’ power and boost a potentially potent competitor to established cable operators.

AT&T and Verizon have complained their rollout of TV service is slowed by the need to obtain approval from thousands of localities. Under the bill that passed the House telecommunications subcommittee yesterday, the companies could move into localities quickly after receiving federal permission.

In voting on the measure, the panel rejected Democratic-led attempts to require phone companies to offer their new services throughout local communities.

Democrats argued that without such a measure, poor residents would be left unserved. Republicans said build-out requirements would discourage telephone companies from entering communities with their new services.

The panel also rejected attempts to strengthen so-called net neutrality provisions that aim to prevent unfair discrimination against content from rivals or from services that cannot afford a fee. Some lawmakers fear, for instance, that a phone or cable company could slow the display of video provided by a competing service.

Cable operators and the phone companies generally oppose net neutrality provisions as an intrusion on their business.

Google, Amazon and other large Internet companies on Wednesday reiterated their call for stronger net neutrality language, saying innovation would otherwise suffer.

To become law the measure must succeed in further votes before at least one committee and the full House of Representatives. It also needs passage in the Senate, which has yet to begin crafting its bill.

This story updates an item posted yesterday with news of the measure’s passage.