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Bill Gives Parents More Control Over TV

July 22, 2007
In The News

As the father of two young children, I more clearly understand the difficulties parents face on a daily basis protecting their children.

One especially daunting task is monitoring and controlling what children can access on TV. Everyone remembers what happened during the Super Bowl halftime show several years ago where a female performer exposed herself on national television. From that experience, changes were made to the decency standards applied to broadcast television, resulting in less objectionable material being spread across the airwaves.

However, cable and satellite providers continue to be exempt from these standards. The end result seems to be that there are no limits on what children may discover on TV after school. For that reason, I recently joined several of my colleagues in sponsoring bipartisan legislation that would expand and improve family programming options for cable and satellite television consumers.

The Family and Consumer Choice Act of 2007 is intended to offer a common-sense solution to the problem of offensive, vulgar, violent and/or obscene programming.

While I generally dislike involving government in the regulation of free speech issues such as television broadcasting, there are instances where such intervention is necessary. This is one such instance. Let me make it clear: A parent's job is to parent. This legislation isn't a substitute for parental involvement but, rather, a tool for parents to better monitor and control what their children are watching on TV. It offers a common-sense approach that allows parents to parent and limit what their children are exposed to on television.

Currently, consumers face limited choices of truly family programming and, even more frustrating, are forced to pay for many channels they don't want. For example, in order to get popular educational, news and sports channels, consumers are forced to also get channels that may be objectionable for children such as Spike TV or MTV.

Polls have confirmed parents are concerned their children are being bombarded by obscene, indecent and violent programming. A late 2005 AP/Ipsos Poll showed that 66 percent of Americans say there is too much sex on TV and 68 percent say there is too much violence.

The way the system now works, to get the channels that families want to watch, they're forced by their cable or satellite provider to also get channels they don't want. In simple terms, when you go to the store to purchase a shirt, you're not required to buy a pair of pants as well; or when you go to the grocery store and want to buy an orange, you aren't required to buy an apple as well. Consumers should have more options, not fewer. This bill is intended to give them those options without limiting what other consumers want to choose.

This is accomplished by one of three methods that would be chosen by each individual satellite or cable provider. First, they can limit indecent programming during daylight hours as broadcast television now does. Their second option is to offer a family tier of programming. Finally, they could choose to offer an opt-out a la carte cable package to customers. At the end of the day, any of these options would offer parents one more tool to use as they manage what their children are exposed to on a daily basis.

As I mentioned, consumers should have more choices, not fewer. Many families decide to forgo the satellite or cable option for one reason or another. One of these reasons is the inability to exclude objectionable channels. Another very strong reason is cost. In the past 10 years, while other technology costs have declined noticeably, cable costs have doubled. A la carte pricing offers one alternative that has the potential to lower prices for consumers across the board.

At the end of the day, I believe more households would subscribe to these services as a result of this legislation, an outcome I'm sure cable and satellite companies could support.
Make no mistake, cable and satellite providers do offer a significant amount of high-quality, family-friendly programming. The problem begins when you have to search through all of the offensive, vulgar, violent and/or obscene programming that is being indiscriminately broadcast.

Cable and satellite providers have seen the actions taken against their competitors in broadcast television. However, they've failed to take action on their own, so now it's necessary for the appropriate legislation to be introduced. Families deserve more, and it's time for industry to deliver.