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Cable Pledges Free Blocking Technology

As critics continue to press for ways to restrict racy pay-TV programming, the 10 largest cable operators said Tuesday they will offer free channel-blocking equipment to subscribers who don't already have it.

The channel-blocking equipment will be offered on request and is intended for parents who don't want children viewing some of the channels in expanded basic programming packages.

Some smaller operators are also participating. In all, 85% of cable subscribers will have access to channel-blocking technology. The initiative was unveiled Tuesday by National Cable & Telecommunications Association President Robert Sachs and is aimed at heading off efforts by some lawmakers to bring cable programming under an indecency enforcement regime similar to broadcasters or to impose other restrictions on cable programming services, such as requiring them to sell channels on a channel-by-channel basis.

"No one wants policymakers to have to choose between protecting children or preserving the First Amendment," Sachs said. "So, if we, as an industry, actively promote the choices and controls available to consumers, there will be no need for anyone to do so." Sachs reaffirmed operators' commitment to apply TV ratings and content labels to their programming and encode ratings in programming so that they activate V-Chips in television sets.

House indecency bill co-sponsor Ed Markey (D-Mass.) criticized the cable industry several weeks ago for not doing enough on the indecency front, saying its planned consumer education campaign paled in comparison to Comcast's pledge to take aggressive steps to give subs more control of their content.