FCC Warns of Possible Pay TV Regulation

Matt O'Conner
WASHINGTON — Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin says cable and satellite providers had better clean up their act or face the possibility of government regulations and fines similar to those imposed on broadcasters.

Testifying at an all-day Senate forum on indecency, Martin said, “You can always turn the television off and of course block the channels you don't want, but why should you have to?”

Currently, obscenity and indecency standards apply only to over-the-air broadcasters.

Martin also said that his agency will soon release a report recommending that cable providers sell channels individually to subscribers in order to offer them greater control over the programming they receive.

Some industry analysts have suggested that the FCC is showing greater interest in cable and satellite programming because of Howard Stern’s impending switch from broadcast radio to satellite and his recent launch of pay-per-view TV programming, both of which feature uncensored content, including interviews with porn stars that sometimes involve nudity and sexual situations.

More than 20 representatives from the entertainment industry and various special interest groups offered differing views on whether cable and satellite companies should be subject to stricter regulation.

While cable and satellite executives largely kowtowed to conservative lawmakers and representatives of groups such as the Christian Coalition on the larger issue of free speech on public airwaves, they did reject the notion of selling a la carte channels and said that government should not place restrictions on pay TV and radio.

“Previous and recent analyses were consistent in their findings that government pay-per-channel regulation would be likely to hurt consumers by increasing prices, decreasing choice and reducing diversity in programming, and it would do so in a way that violates the First Amendment," Kyle McSlarrow, president of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, said.

Several lawmakers in attendance issued stern warning to industry representatives. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, told executives, “If you don't come up with an answer, we will.”