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Reason Foundation

Congress to Cable: Family Tiers or Censorship

Steven Titch
July 26, 2006, 2:10pm

Congress' summer 2006 pandering tour continued today with yet another call for cable censorship. Reps. Dan Lipinski (D., Ill.) and Tom Osbourne (R., Neb.) introduced the Family Choice Act, which basically offers cable operators a Hobson's Choice of providing a la carte "family-tiers" or a threat of being held to the standards that apply to over-the-air broadcasters. Specifically, the bill gives the cable industry three choices. ď Apply broadcast indecency standards to their programming between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.; ď Offer an opt-out a la carte programming option, such that any channel a subscriber does not want to receive will be blocked, and the subscriber will be provided with a credit on their bill for the channels they block; or ď Allow subscribers to choose a family tier of programming; a family tier is defined to include all the channels in the Expanded Basic Tier, except those that have programming unsuitable for children between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. (programs rated TV-Mature or TV-14), unless that programming is a news program or live sporting event. That final stipulation of "live sporting event" is a notable attempt at micromanagement. If there is any more contentious debate beyond the mandated creation of family tiers, it's what channels should be included in one. When Cox introduced family-tier line-up earlier this year, the family-values set was not happy, especially because ESPN, the popular all-sports channel, was not included. (Never mind that it was Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" at a live sporting event that triggered this latest round of censorship threats.) At the time the San Diego Tribune ran an article featuring much of the whining by groups who, like all censors, came off as wanting to ban all channels except their own favorites. Like the other populist items on the election year agenda–flag burning amendments, gay marriage amendments and Internet gambling bans, this should gain little traction once Congress adjourns. And for those who really do wish to have more control over the entertainment that comes into their homes, the Internet may make true a la carte video possible. More and more shows are being archived on studio sites and by aggregators such as YouTube and Akimbo. AOL offers TV from the fifties and sixties, including the old George Reeves Superman series. Pretty soon you'll be able to order only what you want when you want it. There might be a cost per download, but it could compare favorably to monthly cable. Barring that, you can always turn the infernal box off.


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