FCC Chairman Pushes Cable Choice Bill


Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.) Thursday introduced the Family & Consumer Choice Act of 2007.

The bill would require cable companies to choose from one of three options in delivering their programming: 1) accept broadcast-style indecency regulations, 2) offer "real" family tiers (ones that would offer news and sports channels), or 3) provide an opt-out a la carte system where viewers can block and get a rebate for, any channel they don't want.

Lipinski said he would not make any promises about the cable choice bill's fate and conceded he had gotten no commitment from the leadership of the key Energy & Commerce Committee on the hearings..

He  introduced a similar bill in the last Congress, but said that he sees more momentum this time around. 

Joining Lipinski was co-sponsor Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.), FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, Parents Television Council Director of Government Affairs Dan Isett, and Jeannine Kenny, senior policy analyst of Consumer's Union. Former Washington Redskin Heath Shuler, now a North Carolina Democratic Representative, is also said to support the bill.

In his remarks Martin said making the legislative push "even more important" was the Second Circuit Court decision last week throwing out the FCC's profanity findings against Fox.

It is a decision he criticized strongly, and which he reiterated Thursday "may make it more difficult for the FCC to enforce restrictions on objectionable language broadcast over the public airwaves." 

At the bill unveiling, Martin  also reminded an audience at a Capitol Hill press conference that he had urged the cable industry back in 2003--before he was chairman-- to offer viewers more programming choice.

Unsatisfied with the response, Martin has since pushed Congress to step in and give parents content control tools.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association took aim at the a la carte portion that Martin supports in its statement reacting to bill: "Overwhelming evidence shows that a mandated a la carte regime would result in higher prices and less diversity in programming, overturning a video marketplace that provides U.S. consumers with the widest variety of programming found anywhere in the world," said NCTA. "Instead of resorting to unnecessary mandates that would eliminate educational, family, religious and other quality networks, consumers have a wide variety of parental controls through cable set-top boxes and the V-chip which allow them to control content by time, show, network and rating."