Washington -- The top 10 cable companies will provide free channel-blocking services to potentially millions of customers who want to protect children from seeing indecent programming, National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Robert Sachs announced Tuesday.
The commitment represents cable's latest attempt to address the concerns of Congress, regulators and parents about TV indecency in the wake of Janet Jackson's Super Bowl breast exposure that was seen by millions of families.
Current law allows cable to charge for blocking services. NCTA members' decision to provide free blocking would not cover consumers who have the technical means to do it themselves, including set-top boxes and TV sets equipped with V-chips.
"Less than one-half of cable households may not have equipment today with which they could block unwanted programming," Sachs told reporters after announcing the program in a speech at the Cable Television Public Affairs Association’s conference here.
Cable serves about 70 million subscribers.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has called on cable to refund consumers the cost of channels they have blocked to prevent indecent programming from entering their homes.
That idea, Sachs said, was impractical and hard to administer.
"It's the customer, in their own home, that is blocking the programming. It would be very difficult, to say the least, to determine what people have watched, what they haven't watched and to, in some way, rebate them something for that," he added.
Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, said in a prepared statement, "Nobody thinks cable consumers should be charged for blocking programming they find repugnant, and I commend the NCTA for agreeing to do it at no cost to customers. Decent people want to stop indecency from coming into their homes, and this will help."