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Federal approval of Time Warner Inc. and Comcast Corp.’s $17.6 billion carve-up of bankrupt Adelphia Communications Corp. is likely to progress more smoothly and quickly after a cable industry official announced Monday that some major cable operators plan to offer a family tier of programming. Kyle McSlarrow, head of Washington-based cable industry trade group National Cable & Telecommunications Association, said Time Warner, Comcast and three other cable companies plan to offer a tier of family-friendly programs. McSlarrow disclosed the plan during a Senate Commerce Committee forum on indecent programming on TV. “We believe it could help Comcast and Time Warner, at least indirectly, at the [Federal Communications Commission], which is reviewing their planned purchases of Adelphia cable assets,” said Blair Levin, a regulatory analyst at Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. in Washington. The decision to carry family tiers was made after more than two years of pressure from policymakers, including FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, who has expressed his concern about the increasing amounts of sexually charged and violent content on television. Observers close to the FCC said Martin was holding up approval of the transactions in an attempt to coax the cable companies into “voluntarily” creating a family-friendly programming package that didn’t include programming many parents consider inappropriate for their children. “Martin is using leverage over Time Warner and Comcast through his review of their deal to press them to offer a family package,” said a telecom lawyer familiar with the mergers. “Martin’s basically saying that if they voluntarily offer a family tier, he will feel a lot better and the merger will move along faster.” As Washington’s concerns about indecent programming have increased, cable programming has received particular attention from the FCC and Congress because Supreme Court rulings protect subscription TV from the sanctions for indecent programming faced by traditional, free, over-the-air broadcasters. McSlarrow has yet to produce the details of the offerings, which will be important, particularly regarding pricing and the number of channels to be included in the family tier. Martin and key members of Congress have been considering whether to impose a family tier as a stand-alone rule. But in a statement Monday, Martin said he was pleased that some cable companies are responding to his recommendation for a self-directed initiative. “For several years, I have been urging the cable and satellite industry to give parents additional tools to help them address the increasing amount of coarse programming on television,” Martin said in a statement. Copyright �2005 TDD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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