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Wyden: Kids’ Tier or $500K Fine

4/29/2005 2:59 AM Eastern

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) introduced a bill Thursday that would fine cable companies $500,000 per day for failing to provide “child-friendly” tiers of programming that included a minimum of 15 channels.

Wyden said the bill would help parents to filter inappropriate content without regulating every channel on cable.

“Parents who do not want their children to watch violent, obscene or sexually explicit programming should be able to choose a tier of programming appropriate for them,” Wyden said in a prepared statement. “The key here is to guarantee that parents will have adequate viewing options for their kids without imposing federal regulation on all paid content provided on satellite and cable.”

The bill would give cable and satellite providers one year to comply with the new law. In addition to the tiering requirement, Wyden’s bill would force pay TV providers to include channel-blocking instructions in monthly bills.

In his statement, Wyden insisted that his bill would not “dictate how the programming must be offered,” except for the 15-channel minimum.

“The bill leaves it up to the operator whether to offer the kids’ tier as part of a basic or expanded-basic package or as a completely separate package,” Wyden said.

A new law was necessary, he added, because children spend more time watching TV than anything else except sleeping and because a majority of parents have told pollsters that they are very concerned about TV sex and profanity during early evening hours when children are in the audience.

But Wyden said his approach -- creating a programming zone suitable for kids in lieu of a pure a la carte regime -- was intended to address other poll results showing that people were concerned about excessive governmental regulation and believed parents should take responsibility for the programming they purchase.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association said consumer education was preferable to government programming mandates.

"The FCC [Federal Communications Commission] and GAO [Government Accountability Office] have both independently concluded that government-mandated a la carte or themed tiers would result in higher prices for consumers, plus reduce choice and diversity in programming,” NCTA spokesman Brian Dietz said.

“We don't believe that is a winning solution for consumers,” he added. “Instead, we believe that providing our customers with the widest array of programming for the entire family, plus easy-to-use parental-control devices that enable families to block content they feel is inappropriate, provides the best options for families to manage their home TV viewing.”

September