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Stevens Touts Tiers to Avert Cable Rules

Mar 21, 2005  •  Post A Comment

If cable TV wants to avoid being subjected to the same indecency regulation as broadcasters, it must radically restructure programming tiers and ensure subscribers have the ability to easily limit the edginess of what comes into their homes.

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, made that pitch to the cable TV industry last week.

“I do believe it’s time that cable really introduces a new system, and that is a tiered system,” Sen. Stevens said during a Capitol Hill breakfast sponsored by The Hill newspaper.

The cable TV industry has long argued that indecency regulation isn’t needed for cable because cable provides subscribers with free technology to block offensive programming.

But in his remarks last week, Sen. Stevens said consumers object to subsidizing programming that they block.

“I hope this will convince the industry to prepare tiers that are sort of increasingly graded in terms of the kind of material that many people find inappropriate for their children or their families,” Sen. Stevens said.

Sen. Stevens also made clear that if the cable industry fails to voluntarily give parents a clear picture of what sort of programming is included in each tier, he will consider indecency legislation for cable-including a controversial bill introduced last week by Sens. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.

The Rockefeller-Hutchison bill would raise the cap on broadcast indecency fines from $32,500 to $500,000 and extend the government’s oversight of off-color programming to cable and satellite. In addition, the measure would clear the way for the Federal Communications Commission to crack down on violent programming, whether on broadcast, basic cable or satellite.

Another provision would double a broadcaster’s weekly obligation to provide educational and informational programming for children from three hours to six.

“Not far off from what we’re talking about,” said Sen. Stevens, who is planning to make a personal appearance at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association’s national show April 3-5 in San Francisco.

NCTA spokesman Brian Dietz confirmed that Sen. Stevens and NCTA President and CEO Kyle McSlarrow met March 14 and that the NCTA is in ongoing discussions with the senator’s staff. But Mr. Dietz declined comment on the specifics of the discussions, other than to say, “We share the important concerns expressed by members of Congress.”

In a prepared statement, Mr. Dietz said: “As an industry that employs 200,000 workers, including tens of thousands of parents, the cable industry shares the important concerns expressed by members of Congress about the impact of television content on our children. We look forward to working with members of Congress to explore how we can all strengthen our industry’s commitment to provide parental control devices and utilize the TV parental guidelines ratings system. We will continue to explore new ways that we can better educate parents about the tools and resources available to help them make responsible viewing decisions for their families.”

In his original blast at cable programming, during a National Association of Broadcasters seminar early this month, Sen. Stevens said he wanted to level the playing field between broadcasters and the cable and satellite TV industries. Cable and satellite currently are exempt from the indecency rules that apply to broadcasters. Over the past couple of weeks, Sen. Stevens appears to have refined his pitch, now focusing on retiering as a potential solution.