Stevens Offers Broad Challenge to Cable

Author:
Updated:
Original:

Senate Commerce Committee chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) is pressing the cable industry to offer at least one family-friendly tier, to adopt a movie-industry rating system for other tiers and to allow subscribers to pay for only those channels they want.

Stevens met Monday with National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Kyle McSlarrow to discuss his concerns. He will also meet with cable leaders at the National Show in San Francisco in three weeks to garner reaction to his proposals.

“I’m asking the industry to do what the movie industry did: Find a way to meet the outcry from the public and give us a package that we think we can say, ‘That’s great. If that’s followed, we agree,’” Stevens told reporters Wednesday.

He indicated that the National Show meeting could determine whether legislation is necessary. “We asked them to tell us when they are ready to talk, and that’s why I’m stopping in California,” Stevens said.

Voluntary moves by the cable industry could make cable-indecency legislation moot, he added.

“I told them other day that I can envision a situation where we say, ‘We are not going to legislate any further on decency because this system will work,’” he said.

The cable industry, Stevens said, should offer a basic tier that includes local TV stations (which are already covered by federal indecency rules) and public-access channels. He wants other tiers with cable channels rated for content so parents know exactly what they are getting.

“It’s time that cable really introduces a new system, and that is a tiered system,” he said. He added that he didn’t want to restrict carriage of certain cable channels, but he wants “people to know in advance what they are buying.”

Stevens wants cable to go even further. Cable systems, he said, should not impose a full tier charge on subscribers who do not want to pay for certain channels due to inappropriate content for children.

“We also want people who object to all but, say, one or two of those programs within a package not to have to pay for the whole package in order to get the one or two things that children could watch,” Stevens said.

Stevens said he had not crafted a plan that would provide channel rebates for cable subscribers.

Asked for a comment, the NCTA repeated its concern about shielding children from inappropriate content, but the group did not say whether its leaders are developing a proposal that would meet the criteria endorsed by Stevens.

“We look forward to working with members of Congress to explore how we can all strengthen our industry's commitment to provide parental-control devices and utilize the TV parental-guidelines-ratings system. We will continue to explore new ways that we can better educate parents about the tools and resources available to help them make responsible viewing decisions for their families,” NCTA spokesman Brian Dietz said in a prepared statement.

Stevens expressed concern about how cable markets programming tiers.

“Some of these packages are salted with something that you’d want to watch with your child, but it has other things you wouldn’t want to watch with your child,” he said. “In today’s viewing public, I think that is not acceptable.”

A few weeks ago, Stevens indicated that he wanted to apply broadcast-indecency rules to cable, which would ban airing racy content between 6 a.m.-10 p.m. and would subject cable systems that violated the rules to Federal Communications Commission fines.

Stevens said he was misunderstood.

“I never said that they should have the same rules apply to them that apply to over-the-air broadcasters,” he said. “I said there ought to be a level playing field, and that when people watch that [TV] set, they ought to be able to understand which channels they are not going to see that stuff on and be able to set it so that they can prevent their children from seeing or to just not buy it at all.”

Stevens also indicated support for legislation introduced Tuesday by Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) and Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.), which would regulate cable content for indecency and violence if the FCC found that ratings systems and blocking technology were ineffective.

“It’s rather detailed -- not far off of what we are talking about,” he added.

Stevens said he believes the cable industry can make modifications that would obviate the need for new legislation.

“I think it can happen. The last thing we want to do is to find that the FCC is spending all of its time on complaints about a woman baring her breast or about someone mooning some guy in a movie,” he added.

Related