FCC's Martin endorses Family Choice Act

WASHINGTON — Four bipartisan but relatively unknown members of the House have introduced a bill that would mandate a la carte-style subscription options for pay TV customers.

While not expected to gain much legislative momentum, the Family Choice Act of 2007 was endorsed by the Parents Television Council and Concerned Women for America as well as Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin J. Martin, who has made a la carte subscriptions the centerpiece of a crusade against content inappropriate for kids.

“Parents must have the tools to help their children take advantage of the good television can offer, while enabling them to limit their children’s exposure to violent and sexual content they believe is inappropriate,” Martin said at the unveiling of the bill on Thursday. “Since my arrival at the commission, I have been urging the industry to provide parents with the tools to choose the kinds of programs they want to enter their homes.

“So far, the industry has not responded in a meaningful way,” he declared.

Cablers and satcasters as well as several prominent conservative groups have opposed a la carte mandates as intrusive and unnecessary, saying existing blocking and filtering technologies are sufficient to help parents make choices.

“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,” Brian Dietz, communications VP for the National Cable & Telecommunications Assn., said in a statement. “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 that allows them to control content by time, show, network and rating.”

A variety of minority orgs and religious representatives issued similar statements opposing the bill, as did the nonprofit org Institute for Liberty.

“I am very disappointed that chairman Martin continues to turn a blind eye to facts and reason with respect to his a la carte jihad against the subscription-TV industry,” IL prexy Jason Wright said. Bill is sponsored by Reps. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) and supported by Reps. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) and Robert Aderholt (R-Alabama). None is a major player in telecom policy.

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