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Pay TV Tiering Bill Introduced

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) wants to force the cable and satellite industries to provide kid-friendly tiers of programming, with the threat of a half-million-dollar-per-day fine if they don't.

Wyden Thursday introduced the Kid-Friendly TV Programming Act of 2005, which would require cable and satellite operators to offer a tier of at least 15 channels "that do not carry programming, advertisements or public service announcements that would be considered inappropriate for children due to obscene, indecent, profane, sexual, or gratuitous and excessively violent content.”

The tiers could be offered as part of a basic package, expanded basic, or as a seperate tier.

The bill was introduced a day after FCC Chairman Kevin Martin pushed the cable industry to voluntarily provide such tiers, saying the indsutry's announced effort to increase the size and frequency of TV ratings and to boost subscriber education campaigns on channel blocking options was not enough.

The programming industry has resisted offering its channels a la carte, arguing that unbundling the services would raise the cost to consumers and threaten the viability of niche channels.

Wyden is unconvinced, though he was billing the bill as a balance between requiring child-friendly TV and limiting government regulation of content.

Citing Kaiser and Pew studies finding that a majority of parents were concerned about sex and violence on TV and favor further steps to regulate it, Wyden said in announcing the bill: "“Parents who do not want their children to watch violent, obscene or sexually explicit programming should be able to choose a tier of programming appropriate for them. The key here is to guarantee that parents will have adequate viewing options for their kids without imposing Federal regulation on all paid content provided on satellite and cable.”

The bill would impose a $500,000-per-day fine on any cable or satellite operator who does not comply.
The bill will be referred to the Senate Commerce Committee, which is headed by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), a major indecency foe who has been pushing the cable industry to self-regulate.