Adelstein Backs Cable on Blocking Approach

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Clashing with Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin, agency member Jonathan Adelstein Tuesday gave unalloyed support for cable’s effort to energize parents to use blocking technology to filter indecent content.

“It’s especially critical that the cable industry self-regulate, that we encourage those efforts, and that we encourage together parents to take control of their own televisions, because, after all, the government really can’t substitute for parents,” Adelstein said in comments to the Cable Television Public Affairs Association.

Last week, after cable announced a $250 million ad campaign as part of a broad program to promote parental controls, Martin called it encouraging but short of what he wanted: family friendly tiers and more a la carte choices. Senate Commerce Committee chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) also said the effort wasn’t good enough for him.

Adelstein, by contrast, applauded the program in full.

“The $250 million commitment is a fantastic one,” he said. “These are great steps in the right direction.”

Adelstein noted that an FCC study last November concluded that an a la carte approach would raise rates for most subscribers while potentially inflicting serious economic injury on small programmers if operators were forced to unbundled expanded basic.

“It sounds appealing to say, ‘Well, you shouldn’t have to pay for channels that you don’t want.’ The other side of the argument is much more complex, but I think it deserves consideration,” said Adelstein, who delivered a short speech and then fielded questions from Cable News Network reporter Ed Henry.

Adelstein, a Democrat who has been helpful to cable in some key policy fights, noted that the government would have a difficult time grafting broadcast indecency rules onto cable because the Supreme Court has provided greater First Amendment protection to subscription TV than to free, over-the-air broadcasting.

Arguments that cable consumers do not distinguish between cable and broadcast when scrolling through the channels have not convinced the courts to sustain indecency regulation of cable, he added.

“There is a little thing called the Constitution, and the way the courts have interpreted it, which does distinguish between [cable and broadcasting],” he said. “Whether from a policy perspective we think it’s a good idea to regulate it or not, the courts have recognized the difference and it makes it very difficult for either the Congress or the FCC to step in and say this.”

On Monday, Insight Communications Co. CEO Michael Willner, in comments reported in the media, told the CTPAA group that the industry had to do a better job of self-policing content because regulators and lawmakers were reflecting the genuine concerns of parents across the country.

“I was really pleased to hear yesterday Michael Willner and others talking about the need for the industry to really step and self-regulate. I think that’s exactly the right message to be sending,” Adelstein said.

Adelstein said he became familiar with cable’s blocking technology during a visit to a Comcast Corp. facility in Virginia.

“I saw how it worked and I thought, ‘This is fantastic. This is easy,’ ” he said, urging cable to spread the message to parents. “They have no idea that this wonderful tool is available to them.”

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