For Now, Cable Avoids Indecency Regulation


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

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said his bill (H.R. 3717) -- which raises broadcast-indecency fines to $500,000 per violation -- excluded cable because courts have found that cable'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.

House lawmakers including Upton and Reps. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas) lauded a recent commitment by Comcast Corp. to make a broad concerted effort to inform parents how they can use cable technology to block receipt of unwanted programming.

But lawmakers want to see more from cable.

"I simply do not understand why Time Warner [Cable], Cablevision [Systems Corp.], Cox [Communications Inc.], Insight [Communications Co. Inc.], Adelphia [Communications Corp.], Charter [Communications Inc.] 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 that 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."