Comcast Pledges Anti-Indecency Steps

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Comcast Corp. is promising Congress that it will redouble its efforts to assist parents that want to protect their children from TV shows containing sex, violence and harsh language.

Comcast announced its latest plans in a March 1 letter from cable unit president Steve Burke to the leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas) and Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.)

In the letter, Burke outlined an eight-point program designed to provide parents with the tools they need to block and filter programming they consider inappropriate for children.

Specifically, he referred to billing notices, on-screen communications, and an updated Comcast.com Web page.

Comcast, Burke said, would continue to provide free traps to block analog channels and keep requiring every cable network it distributes to provide ratings for all its programming, so digital subscribers can block programming based on ratings.

“Our parental control features are capable of recognizing and blocking based on both [Motion Picture Association of America] and TV ratings,” Burke said.

Burke’s letter did not say whether or not Comcast would provide billing credits to customers that have blocked channels, a policy advocated by Federal Communications Commission member Kevin Martin, a Republican.

Comcast’s letter did not comment on whether subscribers who block channels would receive credits on their programming bill.

Nevertheless, Comcast’s effort won praise on Capitol Hill.

“This is a laudable commitment and I salute Comcast for its performance,” Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) said.

Said Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.): “I think [Comcast has taken a very aggressive, positive stand. I hope the rest of the industry will follow what they have just done, particularly the labeling of programming.”

In passing a tough broadcast-indecency bill last Wednesday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee deliberately excluded the cable industry, even though broadcasters point out that their programming is become more edgy in order to keep with pace cable networks.

Upton said his bill (HR 3717), which raises broadcast indecency fines to $500,000 per violation, excluded cable because courts have found that the medium’s channel-blocking technology was an effective tool against indecency and less damaging to cable’s free-speech rights than federal content mandates.

If Congress attempted to fold cable into the broadcast indecency regime, “the courts would probably strike it real quick and we’d be in trouble,” Upton told reporters after his bill passed 49-1.

Lawmakers want to see more cable operators step up the way Comcast did.

“I simply do not understand why Time Warner, Cablevision, Cox, Insight, Adelphia, Charter and other major cable systems can’t seem to remotely match Comcast’s response,” Markey said.

Barton, who became chairman last week, said he supports the creation of a cable-programming tier that would not contain programming inappropriate for children.

“I continue to suggest that the basic level of programming should be family friendly and channels that have indecent content should be add-ons,” Barton said. “Future Congresses — perhaps even this Congress — will be watching to see if more direct action should be taken.”

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