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Stevens Pushes for Cable Self-Reg

Senate Commerce Committee co-chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) was beating the drum for self-regulation of cable indecency Wednesday, continuing to back off his warning about bringing pay TV under the same regulatory regime as broadcasters.

He still wants to level the playing field, but in a breakfast speech to reporters in Washington, Stevens said he didn't think that a just-introduced bill that could bring cable and satellite indecency under the FCC purview would be necessary, and that he as confident the cable industry would step up and create a system like the Motion Picture Association of America ratings system combined with some form of a la carte.

Stevens said he had met with new National Cable & Telecommunications Association President Kyle McSlarrow and sent staffers out to see Comcast's new blocking technologies, but he also said that blocking wasn't sufficient.

Pointing to the 75% of families where the mothers also work, he suggested that kids are now making the final viewing decisions.

He said he was just looking for a way for parents to make that decision beforehand through a combination of ratings and some form of a la carte that would not require customers to buy channels they don't want in their home.

"I think that the cable systems can do it going in, like the movie people," he said, "and we wouldn't have any trouble at all. Maybe other people would, but I don't think our committee would."

Of the bill, introduced this week by Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) that would target violence and give the FCC some authority over violence and indecency on pay TV, Stevens said: "I intend to work with Senator Rockefeller to go through his proposal if it is necessary. I really don't believe it is."

Two weeks ago, Stevens in a speech to broadcasters warned cable that he wanted to level the playing field  by regulating indecency on pay as well. "I think we can put restrictions on cable. and I intend to tell them that,” Stevens told an applauding crowd of TV- and radio-station executives in Washington two weeks ago for the National Association of Broadcasters annual state leadership conference.

“If we can force them to carry broadcasters’ signals, then I think we can tell them that the same level of [indecency] standards that apply to broadcasters should apply to cable.”
Then last week, he softened that stance and began talking more about tiering and self-regulation.

Responding to a reporter's question, Stevens said one option he's considering would simply require operators to better explain to customers how they can take advantage of existing channel-blocking technology (though this week he was down on blocking as a solution) and, perhaps, mandate operators' participation in a program ratings system.

Stevens said Wednesday he would be stopping by the NCTA convention in San Francisco, clearly looking for some industry help on the indecency front.--Bill McConnell contributed to this report.