- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Cable television companies should be forced to allow customers to choose which channels they want to subscribe to because it will help parents prevent their children from seeing racy fare geared toward adults and teens, several religious and conservative groups said yesterday.

But another coalition backed primarily by media giants staked out a different position, saying the best way to protect children from seeing potentially indecent material on television is for parents to become more involved in deciding what the youngsters watch.

The coalition, called Pause Parent Play, includes companies such as NBC Universal Inc. and Comcast Corp. Its name is meant to encourage parents to pause and think about what kind of programming is available to their children, be active parents and decide what is appropriate and then play, or watch programs with the youngsters.

Both groups are jockeying for influence on Capitol Hill as lawmakers begin preparing to rewrite the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which loosened media-ownership rules and deregulated cable rates.

“Families want choice put back in their hands. It’s not up to cable companies to choose what is pumped into homes,” said Lanier Swann, director of government affairs for Concerned Women for America, a religious group that called on Congress to require the cable industry to offer “a la carte” pricing to their customers.

She cited research that suggests consumers overwhelmingly would prefer choosing which channels they subscribe to, instead of the standard practice of being required to purchase packages that include MTV, the Disney Channel and other diverse networks.

The cable industry has opposed a la carte pricing, saying it would be too expensive. Efforts to force the industry to offer a la carte pricing have never gained momentum on Capitol Hill.

A six-month Federal Communications Commission study that concluded in the fall determined most consumers would end up paying more for cable and satellite television if they were given the choice of subscribing to stations.

Consumers would save money only if they picked fewer than nine networks, according to the study, which Congress ordered. Most households regularly watch an average of 17 channels, including the ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox broadcast networks, the study found.

“I don’t have cable in my home,” said Phil Burress, president of Citizens for Community Values, an Ohio religious group that supports a la carte pricing. “I had to get rid of it because of the filthy broadcasts that came through. … I’m one of those customers that would pay a premium to get the channels I want.”

Another media-backed group, TV Watch, has urged more parents to use the “v-chip” that is included in most new TV sets and allows users to block programming geared toward adults and teens.

“The government doesn’t need to get involved in regulating content because we have this valuable tool, the v-chip, already in place,” said Jim Dyke, TV Watch’s executive director.

The Pause Parent Play coalition enlisted the help of Sens. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, and Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, who each spoke on its behalf at a forum on Capitol Hill yesterday.

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