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Channel blocking: equipment free, courtesy of cable group

Tue, 03/23/2004 - 7:00pm
Staff

Newsday (New York)

March 24, 2004 Wednesday

ALL EDITIONS

From LexisNexis

Cable television providers said yesterday that they would provide channel-blocking equipment for free to subscriber households that lack the technology in an effort aimed at appeasing lawmakers who have called for unprecedented indecency-related regulation of the industry.

Facing congressional proposals that would hold pay-TV providers to the same indecency restrictions as broadcasters, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, the cable industry's primary trade group, said its members — which include the 10 largest U.S. cable operators — would voluntarily help customers who want to prevent unwanted content from being viewed in their living rooms.

A spokesman for Bethpage-based Cablevision Systems Corp. said the company already provides blocking equipment, via its analog and digital set-top boxes, to the majority of its 3 million subscribers.

Stamford, Conn.-based Time Warner Cable, which has 1.4 million subscribers in the New York area and 10.9 million nationwide — second only to Comcast — offers the blocking technology for free to the "vast majority" of its customers, said spokesman Keith Cocozza. Although in some smaller markets it had charged for the blocking service, it would stop doing so under the industry's new policy, he said.

A spokesman for the national trade group said that of the estimated 73 million American households with basic cable service, about a third to a half have no channel-blocking equipment.

Congress has stepped up efforts to curb indecency on the airwaves, sparked by Janet Jackson's breast-baring during the Super Bowl and fanned by the cancellation of Howard Stern's radio show by radio giant Clear Channel Communications. Earlier this month, the U.S. House passed a bill that would authorize the Federal Communications Commission to fine broadcasters as much as $500,000 per indecency violation. Tomorrow, the Senate holds a Commerce Committee hearing on cable television.

"No one wants policymakers to have to choose between protecting children or preserving the First Amendment," Robert Sachs, NCTA president and chief executive, said yesterday at the annual Forum of the Cable Television Public Affairs Association.

Rob Stoddard, a spokesman for the industry group, said that channel-blocking technology is available on all analog and digital cable boxes, as well as TVs equipped with V-chips. He said for customers who lack equipment the two main options are providing a set-top box or installing filters on the cable line.

As part of a campaign to educate cable customers on how to control what content is viewed in the home, the industry group also launched the Web site www.ControlYourTV.org, which includes information on channel-blocking, V-chips and the TV ratings system.

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