Stevens Shown Blocking, Not Tiers


San Francisco -- As promised, cable-industry leaders met here Sunday with Senate Commerce Committee chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) on indecency issues, but they failed to commit to provide a family friendly programming tier or provide consumers with more a la carte choices, according to industry and congressional sources.

Instead, the cable industry demonstrated parental-control technology and promised to make the service more accessible and easier to use. The industry also agreed that when cable customers call their cable operator, customer service representatives would make an extra effort to provide information about available channel-blocking capabilities.

Stevens met with a number of cable leaders, including Comcast Corp. chairman and CEO Brian Roberts and Showtime Networks Inc. chairman Matt Blank.

“It was a good exchange of information,” Blank said.

In recent weeks, Stevens has generally called on cable to break expanded basic into smaller tiers, with each tier having a single rating akin to the system used for Hollywood films. He also called for more a la carte options. Stevens said his approach would help parents filter indecent programming more easily and was preferable to the current system in which parents had to buy a big package of channels and then selectively block programming they consider inappropriate for children.

Stevens indicated that if cable took these steps voluntarily, he did not see the need for legislation.

In the meeting with Stevens, cable officials did not propose altering expanded basic or agree to more a la carte options.

“That would be correct. Other than that I’m not going to get into details,” said National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Kyle McSlarrow, who also attended the meeting.

McSlarrow said he put forward cable’s latest ideas on indecency to Stevens a few weeks ago.

“His response was that he thought we were on the right track. He’s still thinking it through and we’re going to get together when we get back to D.C,” McSlarrow said.