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Wyden Wants More From Cable - Broadcasting & Cable

Wyden Wants More From Cable

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Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who has been pushing a bill to mandate a family cable tier, promised on the Senate floor Friday that he would be back, pushing that bill again, if the entire cable industry does not follow the lead of the six companies that announced such tiers this week.

As the Senate tried to wrap up business and go home for the holidays, Wyden took the opporutnity to praise FCC Chairman Kevin Martin for supporting the tier and raising the visibilty of the issue, and to warn cable that they had not seen the last of him if more and bigger steps were not taken.

Wyden called the announcement by the cable operators, including Comcast and Time Warner, a "a small step." He also said that unless 100% of the cable companies follow their lead, the job will not be complete.

While he said he was pleased with Time Warner's announcement of its family digital tier lineup, he said it was unclear what would be in the basic tier of service that customers would have to buy to get the tier. He said he was afraid that some un-family channels might be included. "They may still have to purchase channels with foul content to get the kids tier he said."

Time Warner has said that the only requirment will be to have a digital box and take the minimum tier--broadcast nets, access channels, C-SPAN and Pax (now i) in some markets, plus the family tier.

For those who wish to parse the Senator for themselves, here is his floor statement:
MR. PRESIDENT, AS THE SESSION WINDS DOWN FOR THIS YEAR, I WANTED TO TAKE A FEW MINUTES AND BRING TO THE ATTENTION OF THE SENATE A NEW DEVELOPMENT THAT I THINK WILL BE OF GREAT INTEREST TO MILLIONS OF PARENTS AND FAMILIES ACROSS THE COUNTRY.

AS THE DISTINGUISHED PRESIDENT OF THE SENATE KNOWS FROM OUR SERVICE IN THE OTHER BODY, PARENTS ARE GREATLY CONCERNED ABOUT THE FACT THAT THEIR CHILDREN ARE BOMBARDED EVERY DAY WITH OBSCENE, INDECENT, PROFANE, AND VIOLENT ENTERTAINMENT ON TELEVISION. AND PARENTS COME UP TO US AS LEGISLATORS AND SAY, WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO TO STOP THIS TRASH?  WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO TO STOP THIS INDECENT PROGRAMMING OUR CHILDREN ARE SUBJECTED TO?

NOW, OF COURSE, WE ALL WISH IN AN IDEAL WORLD THAT PARENTS WOULD TAKE THE MOST DIRECT KIND OF ACTION WHICH WAS SIMPLY TO TURN OFF THE SET AND THAT'S SOMETHING, OF COURSE, THAT CAN BE DONE WITHOUT ANY ROLE OF GOVERNMENT.

BUT WITH BOTH PARENTS WORKING TWO JOBS EACH TO TRY TO KEEP UP, THAT'S NOT GOING TO ALWAYS BE POSSIBLE. AND SO AS I BEGAN TO LOOK AT THIS ISSUE, I ASKED, WHAT MIGHT GOVERNMENT POSSIBLY DO IN THIS AREA TO BETTER PROTECT OUR KIDS FROM INDECENT PROGRAMMING ON TELEVISION AND DO IT IN A WAY THAT WOULD NOT HAVE SOME BIG GOVERNMENT, BIG BUREAUCRACY KIND OF PROGRAM, SOME KIND OF ONE-SIZE-FITS-ALL APPROACH OR SOMETHING WHERE THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT WOULD, IN EFFECT, REGULATE THE CONTENT OF THE PROGRAMS THAT COME OVER OUR TELEVISION SET THAT ARE SUBJECTED TO OUR CHILDREN.

SO AS I BEGAN THE SEARCH IN THIS EFFORT TO TRY TO FIGURE OUT A RESPONSIBLE APPROACH TO THE QUESTION OF INDECENT PROGRAMMING FOR CHILDREN, ONE OF THE THINGS THAT I FOUND EARLY ON IS THAT IF YOU'RE INTERESTED IN SPORTS PROGRAMMING OR YOU'RE INTERESTED IN MOVIES PRIMARILY, THE CABLE COMPANIES AND THE BIG TELEVISION PROGRAMMERS IN EFFECT HAVE SET UP A SPECIAL TIER OF PROGRAMMING FOR THOSE PEOPLE THAT ARE INTERESTED IN SPORTS AND THOSE PEOPLE THAT ARE INTERESTED IN MOVIES. AND I LOOKED AT IT AND FOUND THAT THE CABLE COMPANIES IN PARTICULAR HAD ESSENTIALLY DONE THIS.

THEY SEEM TO HAVE FOUND A WAY TO DO THAT THE SUBSCRIBERS LIKE AND THAT WAS POSSIBLE FOR THEM TO BE PROFITABLE WITH. AND I SAID TO MYSELF, IF THAT KIND OF APPROACH WORKS FOR SPORTS FANS AND MOVIE FANS, WHY CAN'T WE DO IT FOR PARENTS AND FAMILIES AS WELL?  WHY CAN'T WE HAVE A SPECIAL TIER OF PROGRAMMING THAT'S KID FRIENDLY, THAT WORKS FOR FAMILIES AND PARENTS JUST THE WAY WE HAVE THIS KIND OF SPECIAL PROGRAMMING FOR SPORTS AND MOVIES? 

SO EARLIER IN THIS SESSION, I INTRODUCED THE KID FRIENDLY TV PROGRAMMING ACT WHICH WOULD REQUIRE ALL VIDEO SERVICE PROVIDERS TO IMPLEMENT A KID FRIENDLY TIER OF TELEVISION PROGRAMMING.

IN MY BILL, A KIDS TIER IS DEFINED AS A GROUP OF 15 OR MORE TELEVISION STATIONS BLOCKED OFF IN A SEPARATE CHANNEL AREA WITH BOTH PROGRAMMING AND COMMERCIALS ON IT THAT ARE PURELY KID FRIENDLY. PARENTS WOULD BE ABLE TO SUBSCRIBE TO THIS BLOCK OF STATIONS SEPARATE FROM THE REGULAR PROGRAMMING KNOWING THE PROGRAMMING ON THEIR TELEVISION WILL NOT CARRY MATERIAL THAT IS INAPPROPRIATE FOR KIDS DUE TO OBSCENE, INDECENT, PROFANE, SEXUAL OR GRATUITOUS VIOLENCE AND INAPPROPRIATE CONTENT.

IN INTRODUCING THE LEGISLATION, MR. PRESIDENT, I WAS STRUCK BY THE FACT THAT IT SEEMED TO HIT THE CRITERIA THAT WERE MOST IMPORTANT TO ME. MORE WHOLESOME CHOICES FOR PARENTS AND FAMILIES BUT NOT A ONE-SIZE-FITS-ALL GOVERNMENT MANDATE AND IN EFFECT THE GOVERNMENT WOULD PUT THE FOCUS WHERE IT OUGHT TO BE, WHICH IS TO GIVE PARENTS A BLOCK OR A TIER OF CHANNELS THAT WOULD BE SEPARATE FROM REGULAR PROGRAMMING AND WHERE THERE WOULDN'T BE MATERIAL INAPPROPRIATE FOR OUR CHILDREN.

AFTER I PUT THAT LEGISLATION IN, CHAIRMAN STEVENS OF THE COMMERCE COMMITTEE AND THE RANKING MINORITY MEMBER, SENATOR INOUYE, ALSO MADE AN IMPORTANT EFFORT IN TERMS OF A ROUND-TABLE DISCUSSION WITH RESPECT TO THIS PROBLEM OF INDECENCY AND I THINK PROVIDED SOME VERY VALUABLE EXPOSURE FOR THE ISSUE.

I WANT TO EXPRESS MY APPRECIATION TO THEM FOR THEIR LEADERSHIP ON THIS MATTER. I ALSO WANT TO EXPRESS MY APPRECIATION TO THE CHAIRMAN OF THE FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION, KEVIN MARTIN, WHO HAS DISCUSSED THIS ISSUE WITH ME ON A NUMBER OF OCCASIONS, AND AT THE FORUM THAT WAS HELD ON INDECENT PROGRAMMING WHERE HE CAME OUT AND SAID ESSENTIALLY THE SAME THING IN MY BILL, THAT A KIDS TIER PROGRAMMING WOULD BE A RESPONSIBLE, PRACTICAL WAY TO MAKE SURE THAT THE NATION'S CHILDREN HAD MORE WHOLESOME CHOICES WITH RESPECT TO TELEVISION PROGRAMMING.

SO SPURRED BY THOSE EFFORTS, THE LEGISLATION, THE WORK OF CHAIRMAN MARTIN, THE GOOD BIPARTISAN WORK DONE BY SENATOR STEVENS AND SENATOR INOUYE, THIS WEEK THE CABLE INDUSTRY TOOK A SMALL STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION WHEN SIX CABLE COMPANIES, INCLUDING TIME WARNER AND COMCAST, ANNOUNCED THAT THEY PLAN TO OFFER A KIDS TIER OF PROGRAMMING IN 2006. SO HAVING LISTENED FOR MONTHS AND MONTHS TO ARGUMENTS THAT, OH, IF WE HAVE THIS KIDS TIER, IT'S NOT GOING TO BE PROFITABLE AND COMING TO UNDERSTAND IT WAS TIME TO GET SERIOUS ABOUT THIS PROBLEM, THERE WAS AT LEAST A BEGINNING.

NOW YESTERDAY TIME WARNER RELEASED THE DETAILS OF THEIR KIDS OFFERING. NOW WHILE I WAS PLEASED TO SEE THAT THEIR PROPOSAL INCLUDED G-RATED STATIONS THAT RUN CHILD-FRIENDLY CONTENT 24 HOURS A DAY, IT WAS UNCLEAR WHAT WOULD BE INCLUDED IN THE PACKAGE THAT PARENTS MUST PURCHASE IN ORDER TO PURCHASE KIDS TIER.

PARENTS MAY STILL HAVE TO SUBCRIBE TO STATIONS THAT HAVE VIOLENCE AND INAPPROPRIATE SEXUAL CONTENT IN ORDER TO GET THE KIDS TIER. THAT'S NOT WHAT MY LEGISLATION CALLED FOR AT ALL. IT SAID WE HAD TO HAVE ALTERNATIVES TO THE KIND OF INAPPROPRIATE PROGRAMMING THAT IS OUT THERE NOW. BUT IN ORDER TO SUBSCRIBE TO TIME WARNER'S KIDS TIER, FAMILIES MIGHT ALSO HAVE TO SUBSCRIBE TO TIME WARNER'S STANDARD OFFERING WHICH WITHOUT GOING INTO IT, MR. PRESIDENT, CERTAINLY CAN INCLUDE INAPPROPRIATE PROGRAMMING FOR CHILDREN. 

NOW I'M PLEASED THAT I CAN SAY ON THE FLOOR OF UNITED STATES SENATE THAT AT LEAST THE INDUSTRY HAS RECOGNIZED THE NEED FOR A KIDS TIER OF CABLE PROGRAMMING ACROSS OUR COUNTRY.

NOW FOR A LONG TIME, WHENEVER I BROUGHT THIS UP THEY BASICALLY SAID OH, WESTERN CIVILIZATION IS GOING TO END WITH THIS KIND OF PROGRAMMING THAT MEETS THE NEEDS OF PARENTS AND FAMILIES.  AT LEAST WE'VE SEEN SOME BABY STEPS TO ADDRESS THIS ISSUE.

BUT WHAT IS REALLY NEEDED ISN'T ANY DIFFERENT, MR. PRESIDENT, THAN WHAT PARENTS HAVE AT THE CANDY-FREE CHECKOUT LANE AT THE SUPERMARKET. PARENTS SHOULDN'T HAVE TO TAKE THEIR KIDS PAST THE CANDY TO CHECK OUT AND PARENTS SHOULDN'T BE FORCED TO EXPOSE THEIR KIDS TO OBSCENE PROGRAMS JUST TO GET PROGRAMS THAT ARE APPROPRIATE.

SO, I THINK THAT IN THE DAYS AHEAD I WANT TO MAKE SURE THAT CHILDREN ACROSS THE COUNTRY HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY TO HAVE ACCESS TO KIND OF GOOD-QUALITY PROGRAMMING, THAT KIDS TIER IS IMPLEMENTED PROPERLY AND THAT IT DOESN'T JUST DEPEND ON WHICH COMMUNITY YOU'RE IN.

WHILE A FAMILY IN PORTLAND IN MY HOMESTATE WOULD HAVE A KIDS TIER AVAILABLE TO THEM BECAUSE THEY ARE SERVED BY COMCAST, A FAMILY IN PENDELTON OR HOODRIVER WOULD NOT HAVE IT BECAUSE THEY RECEIVE THEIR CABLE THROUGH A DIFFERENT COMPANY.  SO UNTIL THIS IS APPLICABLE ACROSS THE COUNTRY WITH EVERY VIDEO SERVICE PROVIDER, IT SEEMS TO ME THE JOB WON'T BE DONE.  MY LEGISLATION REQUIRED THAT ALL VIDEO SERVICE PROVIDERS INSTITUTE A KIDS TIER. I WANT TO MAKE SURE THAT FAMILIES GET THIS OPTION.

SO IT IS MY INTENT, MR. PRESIDENT, TO WATCH VERY CLOSELY TO THE DEVELOPMENTS THAT WE HAVE SEEN IN THE LAST COUPLE OF WEEKS WITH RESPECT TO TIME WARNER. I'M VERY APPRECIATIVE OF WHAT CHAIRMAN MARTIN HAS DONE IN THIS AREA BECAUSE I THINK IT HAS GIVEN GREAT VISIBILITY TO THE QUESTION OF IMPROVING CHILDREN'S PROGRAMMING.

BUT I WILL SAY, MR. PRESIDENT, AND I SEE SENATOR PRYOR HERE AS WELL WHO HAS DONE EXCELLENT WORK ON THE COMMERCE COMMITTEE, BEEN VERY INTERESTED IN THIS ISSUE OF INDECENT PROGRAMMING FOR CHILDREN, THAT IT'S MY INTENT IF WE DON'T SEE THIS KIND OF KID-FRIENDLY PROGRAMMING, A TIER OF KID-FRIENDLY PROGRAMMING DONE RIGHT ACROSS THIS COUNTRY, I'M GOING TO COME BACK TO THE SENATE AND PUSH FOR MY OTHER LEGISLATION.

WE'VE TAKEN SOME BABY STEPS NOW IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION BUT THERE IS STILL A GREAT DEAL TO DO AND IT'S IMPORTANT WITH MILLIONS OF KIDS BEING EXPOSED TO THIS INDECENT, PROFANE AND VIOLENT PROGRAMMING. IT'S IMPORTANT TO DO THIS JOB RIGHT AND THE SENATE OUGHT TO STAY AT IT ON A BIPARTISAN BASIS UNTIL IT'S DONE.

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