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Cable Providers Plan Family Tier

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WASHINGTON Operators reaching roughly half the nation's cable customers will offer a family-friendly programming tier beginning early next year, a top cable official told a congressional hearing on indecency today.

Kyle McSlarrow, president and CEO of the National Cable & Telecommunications Associaton, said companies that would offer the tier include Comcast, Time Warner, Advance Newhouse Communications, Insight and Midcontinent Media. The tiers are to begin early next year, following negotiations between each cable operator and its programmers, McSlarrow said.

The announcement comes as cable struggles to ward off pressure from lawmakers and others to reduce the potential exposure of children to rough language and sexually suggestive programming.

Suggestions have included government mandating family tiers; requiring that customers may choose only the channels they want rather than accepting broad programming packages; and applying to cable programming the indecency regulations that now affect only broadcast TV and radio.

McSlarrow said he hoped the family-friendly tiers would bring an end to calls for mandatory measures.

Stevens in remarks to reporters called the tiers a good first step, and indicated he would not seek to advance legislation while the family tiers are introduced.

The House early this year passed legislation to steeply increase fines for broadcast indecency, but there has been no action in the Senate.