Martin to Endorse Cable Content Bill

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Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin Thursday is planning to endorse bipartisan federal legislation that would force cable operators to create a family-friendly programming tier, to comply with existing federal indecency rules, or to rebate customers who have blocked channels in a tier.

None of the lawmakers sponsoring the bill is a heavy hitter in Capitol Hill telecommunications-policy circles, which probably means that the bill is just another a la carte irritant the cable industry would need to endure.

Martin -- who said his agency doesn’t have legal authority to impose a la carte mandates on cable -- is expected to attend a press briefing in the Rayburn House office building at 11:15 a.m., joining bill sponsors Reps. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.). The other sponsors of the bill are Reps. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) and Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), said Chris Lyons, Lipinski’s legislative assistant.

The legislation, called the Family Choice Act of 2007, has the support of the Parents Television Council and Concerned Women from America, who are planning to send officials to share the stage with Martin and the lawmakers. Both PTC and CWA are vocal proponents of cable a la carte, which the industry has said would raise consumer bills overall and drive minority-focused channels out of business.

The bill will likely be referred to the Energy and Commerce Committee, which has direct oversight of the FCC. Lipinski and Fortenberry do not serve on that panel.

Sen John D. (Jay) Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) is planning soon to introduce a bill designed to curb children’s exposure to indecency and violence on broadcast and cable TV, but, according to his press secretary, he isn’t expected to propose a la carte mandates at this time.

The Senate Commerce Committee is expected to hold a hearing June 26 on a recent FCC TV-violence study, which partly concluded with Martin’s support that forcing the a la carte sale of cable programming would raise fewer First Amendment concerns in court than direct regulation of speech, such as banning indecent language and material from 6 a.m.-10 p.m.