Congressmen Again Urge A La Carte Cable
Contending cable TV programming is growing increasingly "coarse" and "indecent," four congressmen are unveiling a new bid to require cable and satellite operators to offer subscribers family-friendly choices. Their effort is drawing support from Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin and some consumer groups.
At a Capitol Hill press conference, U.S. Rep. Daniel Lipinski, D-Ill, said he hopes a recent court decision overturning the FCC's fleeting indecency standard will help generate increased momentum for the Family Choice Act, which is identical to legislation he introduced in the last Congress that went nowhere.
The legislation gives cable operators three choices. They could monitor cable shows, applying the broadcast indecency standards to programs in the expanded basic-cable tier. They could instead provide what the congressman called a "real family tier," defined in the bill as all family-appropriate channels catering to all family members. Finally, they could offer an a la carte system and let subscribers block and stop paying for channels they don't want.
Reps. Lipinski, Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., Heath Shuler, D-N.C., and Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., all listed parents' inability to control content for their kids as the main reason for the legislation.
"While there is no doubt that parents are the first line of defense in protecting their kids, clearly they need help," said Rep. Lipinski. He called the legislation "a common-sense solution," adding, "This is not about taking choices, but providing choices."
The FCC's Mr. Martin said TV offers an extraordinary variety of programming, but it also offers "some of the coarsest programming ever produced."
He said despite his repeatedly urging the cable and satellite industry to create more family-friendly programming packages, "the industry has not responded in a meaningful way."
Mr. Martin called the proposed legislation "very modest."
"Offering channels in a more a la carte fashion will benefit all consumers -- not only parents," he said. "All subscribers know that cable prices have risen at astounding rates -- just as other communications costs have fallen. In the last 10 years, cable prices have doubled. A la carte pricing not only gives parents greater control over the content available to their families, but also has the potential to lower prices for consumers across the board."
Brian Dietz, VP of communications for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, said the V-chip is a far better alternative for concerned consumers than new requirements.
"Overwhelming evidence shows that a mandated a la carte regime would result in higher prices and less diversity in programming, overturning a video marketplace that provides U.S. consumers with the widest variety of programming found anywhere in the world," Mr. Dietz said.