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Cable Industry Claims To Be At Forefront of Content-Control Technologies

The cable industry says it was at the forefront of content-control technologies, and continues to improve them, an effort that will be aided by its migration to digital.

That was the message to the FCC in comments on its upcoming report to Congress on the state of the V-chip/ratings system and other technologies.

While the National Cable & Telecommunications Association filed jointly with the NAB and MPAA, it also made its own case in supplemental comments.

While pointing out that it joined with broadcasters and studios to announce the ratings system in 1997, NCTA also said it had pledged it support back in 1994, when it also launched its "Taking Charge of Your TV" initiative with the PTA.

And, said NCTA, "As increasingly more cable customers obtain digital set-top boxes from their cable operator, parents have access to additional features that they can use to limit the programming that their children watch."

NCTA pointed to its numerous PSA and other public education campaigns in tandem with a host of partners, as well as to its long history--predating the V-chip/ratings system--of scrambling channels and allowing customers to block certain channels otherwise part of their service tier, first via a device outside the home, then in-home blocking via set-top boxes.

Cable also has tools that help parents limit access to Web sites with online video parents might not want their kids watching.

NCTA argued that it has made it easy to block shows using the ratings via program guides, and with a system sensitive enough to, say, block a TV-PG rated show with a violence warning, but not one with a language warning, if that is the customer's preference. Or, shows with a violence warning can all be blocked regardless of the rating.

Some digital set-tops can also be programmed to skip channels, and even exclude them from the on-screen guide.

NCTA also pointed out that cable operators--Comcast, Time Warner and Cox among them--have teamed with third parties to provide content controls, including "several cable operators [who] have relationships with Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that rates shows for age-appropriateness.

"Cable operators have every incentive to respond to their customers' desires for improvements in parental controls," said NCTA. "They continually make adjustments without any governmental mandate, and can be expected to persist in their efforts to offer their customers the best in parental controls and the easiest access to information about the programming they offer."

Congress passed the Child Safe Viewing Act last fall, with instructions for the FCC to produce a report to Congress by Aug. 29.