WASHINGTON DC: A bill to bring US cable television operators under the same indecency rules as their broadcast peers and force them to create a family-friendly programming tier is due to be aired among the lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

The proposals, sponsored by a cross-party group of Republican and Democrat congressmen, has been endorsed by Kevin Martin, chairman of media watchdog, the Federal Communications Commission.

The Family Choice Act of 2007 is also supported by the Parents Television Council and Concerned Women from America, both of which have lobbied long and hard for a la carte cable programming.

The industry, unsurprisingly, contends legislation would decrease consumer choice, make cable companies' revenues unpredictable and would violate their free speech rights.

In a bid to head off lawmakers, some cable TV providers have made attempts to offer family friendly program choices [WARC News: 14-Dec-05] but America's new puritans believe these efforts have been half-hearted.

Comments Kevin Martin: "I actually agree with many critics of the FCC that parents—not the government—should be the first and last line of defense. But that means that parents must have meaningful choices and that their choices must have meaningful consequences.

"If a family must continue to pay for programming even when they object to it, there is little or no incentive for programmers to respond."

The proposed legislation gives cable operators three choices: to apply broadcast indecency standards to their programming between 6am and 10pm; define a 'family tier' as all channels in the expanded basic tier, except those that have programming rated TV-Mature or TV-14; offer an a la carte programming option, so that any channel can be blocked and a credit paid on the customer's bill for the blocked programming.

The Senate Commerce Committee is also expected to hold a hearing next week on a recent FCC TV-violence study [WARC News: 26-Apr-07], which partly concluded that forcing the a la carte sale of cable programming would raise fewer free speech concerns than imposing indecency standards during prescribed hours.

Data sourced from Adweek (USA) and multichannel.com; additional content by WARC staff