Internet providers told Congress on Tuesday they're doing all they can to combat online child pornography, but they were told to expect legislation.

Several voiced skepticism about creating new laws that would force them to retain data about their users' online activity.

Any such measure would be costly and easily circumvented and would "fall far short of its intended goal," America Online chief counsel John Ryan told a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing.

The focus should be on improving existing child porn laws — not "new mandates," said Verizon Online general counsel Thomas Dailey.

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Lawmakers, however, said more must be done to stop the availability of child porn on the Web and chart rooms where pedophiles troll for young victims.

"The parents of America and I think the Congress is tired of just talking about it. I think we're ready to take action," Energy and Commerce Chairman Joe Barton, R-Texas, told a panel of executives from seven companies including Yahoo Inc., Google Inc. and Microsoft Corp.

Barton said that after hearings by his committee's investigative subcommittee wrap up Wednesday he plans to develop a comprehensive anti-porn bill. He didn't offer details, but getting companies to maintain customer records was a focus Tuesday.

Top Justice Department officials including Attorney General Alberto Gonzales have met recently with Internet executives to discuss the issue. There's currently no legal requirement for companies to hang onto records of their customers' activities, and according to testimony Tuesday, industry practices vary dramatically.

EarthLink Inc. archives customer records for seven years; Comcast Corp. now keeps it only for 31 days, but plans to implement a 180-day policy by Sept. 1.

The lack of uniformity "is seriously hindering investigations," said Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., who is writing a bill to require certain customer-identifying records to be kept for one year.

Companies already are adjusting their practices in response to the attention from Congress and the Justice Department.

Five companies — Time Warner Inc.'s AOL, Yahoo, Microsoft, Earthlink and United Online Inc. — announced Tuesday they will jointly build a database of child-pornography images and develop other tools to help prevent distribution of the images. The companies pledged $1 million and will work with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Google came under the most criticism Tuesday, with lawmakers brandishing printouts of a search using the terms "pre-teen," "sex" and "video" that yielded 2.9 million hits on the massive search site.

Nicole Wong, Google's associate general counsel and chief privacy officer, said that search was an aberration based on the company's failure to flag the word "pre-teen" when it's hyphenated, but that it's been corrected. She said the company's policy was to block access to child porn sites as soon as they're detected.

"We do the best we can," Wong said.