Tate Concerned About Family Tiers

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Washington -- Federal Communications Commission member Deborah Tate warned cable companies that family tiers were a good first step but not enough to solve the industry’s political battle over indecent content.

“I’ve been applauding them at the same time I have been saying, ‘I don’t think you have gone far enough,’” Tate said in remarks Tuesday to hundreds of state officials of the National Association of Broadcasters here.

The Parents Television Council and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) have called on cable to sell channels a la carte so parents can pick the channels their kids watch and so they don't have to pay for channels they end up blocking.

Tate said she had dinner Sunday night in Nashville, Tenn., with friends who complained about cable prices while having to block "half the stations they are paying for.”

She added that Internet-protocol-TV service planned by AT&T Inc. could empower consumers with a la carte options, demonstrating that the market might make regulation unnecessary.

“If IPTV becomes viable, it’s not a problem because you are going to call [up] what you want,” she said. "I’ve been calling it channel on-demand instead of a la carte.”

Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Cable have been rolling out family tiers -- packages that include just family, news and weather channels -- to address indecency concerns raised by FCC chairman Kevin Martin and others and to stave off possible a la carte mandates.

Tate -- a Republican who joined the FCC in January -- said she expressed her concerns in recent meetings with cable-industry leaders, whom she did not name.

“I have actually written several of the cable operators and actually, they have been in the past few days to talk about what their plans are,” she added.

Tate took a question on multicast must-carry from an NAB audience member but she declined to state a position.

After her remarks, Tate refused to take press questions. Later, Tate aide Andrew Long explained that she was talking about e-mails she had written to cable executives as follow-ups to their private meetings.

“We are not talking about a letter. She has not sent out any letter to cable companies on this subject,” Long added.

Comcast’s will make its family tier available to more than one-half of its markets by the end of March and to nearly all of its subscribers by the end of 2006.

Time Warner has announced plans for full company deployment of its 15-channel family tier by March 31.

“We need to see how effective this is going to be in the marketplace in addressing consumers before we can conclude that this is the solution to the problem,” Long said. “We don’t think the process is over.”

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