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FCC Targets Adult-Signal Bleed

Under pressure from a key House Republican, the Federal Communications
Commission released a fact sheet Thursday designed to inform cable subscribers
how to block adult sex channels that leak audio and video snippets onto adjacent
channels.

The commission's response was designed to mollify Rep. Jim Greenwood (R-Pa.),
who wrote FCC chairman Michael Powell in July with concerns about the agency's
effort to combat adult-programming-signal bleed on cable-television systems.

Greenwood is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on
Oversight and Investigations, a powerful perch that allows him to probe the
activities of various federal agencies, including the FCC.

In the fact sheet, the commission spelled out its definition of signal bleed
and the legal means by which cable subscribers can block it under a provision of
the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which passed as part of the
Telecommunications Act of 1996.

The FCC referenced the section -- which applies to the cable industry, but
not to its competitors -- that requires the cable operator, upon the request of
the subscriber, to fully scramble the audio and video of the bleeding channel
without charge.

The FCC noted that the cable operator is required to take action only in
response to a subscriber request, and the request must apply to a channel that
the subscriber has not purchased.

The FCC also noted that cable subscribers can obtain from the cable company a
'lockbox' that can cut off any channel. It also advised all consumers, and not
just cable subscribers, of the availability of new TV sets with so-called
V-chips that can delete programming on a per-show and per-channel basis.

All told, the FCC issued a news release, a public notice and a fact sheet on
signal bleed, but it never referred directly to cable pornography or adult
programming. The phrase repeatedly used was 'objectionable content,' even though
Greenwood's letter to Powell specifically referred to 'sexually oriented
programming.'

In his letter, Greenwood recounted a recent meeting between his committee
staff and FCC personnel about the agency's efforts to collect data on the
prevalence of signal bleed by cable sex channels.

Greenwood said FCC staff informed him that the agency 'dropped the entire
matter' after the Supreme Court struck down a related provision from the 1996
law and associated FCC rules that required all multichannel-video-programming
distributors either to scramble adult channels fully or to air them only between
10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

'This is simply unacceptable,' Greenwood said in his three-page letter. 'As
you start your tenure as chairman of the FCC, I urge you to investigate the
scope of the signal-bleed problem and determine what supplementary measures, if
any, are necessary to protect our children from viewing sexually explicit cable
programming through signal bleed.'

FCC sources could not immediately say whether the agency was attempting to
collect signal-bleed data.