Policy

Wyden Floats Content Bill

5/12/2006 8:00 PM Eastern

Washington— Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) is looking for a Republican co-sponsor for a cable-television content bill designed to give consumers more choice in selecting their programming lineups, according to a Senate aide and a broadcast industry executive.

These individuals said Wyden’s bill would pressure cable operators to ensure that consumers had at least three options: a family tier with programming suitable for children, programming tiers covered by broadcast indecency rules or channels provided on an a la carte basis.

They also said that Wyden had initially lined up Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) to be his co-sponsor, but she later declined to participate, having changed her mind about the benefits of a la carte options.

They were unclear whether Wyden would require cable operators to provide the options or create incentives for them to do so. Said a Wyden spokesman, Andrew Blotky: “I actually don’t have any comment on that right now. I try not to comment on things until they are finalized.”

A Hutchison press aide did not have a comment.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) announced weeks ago that he was preparing a bill to lift a cable operator’s requirement to obtain a local franchise if the operator allowed consumers to buy channels a la carte. McCain has long urged cable companies to sell programming services on that basis, arguing that consumers should not have to pay for channels that they have no interest in viewing.

McCain might attempt to attach his bill to broader telecommunications legislation (S. 2686) sponsored by Senate Commerce Committee chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). Stevens is planning a committee vote on the bill on June 8.

Because Wyden does not serve on the Commerce panel, he would need a committee member to offer his amendment as an add-on to the Stevens bill. Hutchison could have given Wyden that option, because she holds a seat on Commerce.

Wyden has grown increasingly concerned about the program packages offered by pay TV distributors. In April 2005, he introduced a bill (S. 946) that would fine cable and satellite TV providers $500,000 per day for failing to provide a “child-friendly” tier of programming that included a minimum of 15 channels.

The bill, Wyden said, would help parents “who do not want their children to watch violent, obscene or sexually explicit programming …” via cable and satellite systems, which would be given one year to comply with the tiering mandate.

Although TV indecency has been widely discussed on Capitol Hill, no hearing has been held on Wyden’s child-friendly tier bill.

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