The offer is directed to about half the nation's 70.5 million cable subscribers who don't have cable boxes that can be programmed to block certain channels or programs. The companies agreeing to the plan include the 10 largest in the country and reach 85 percent of all cable subscribers.
Robert Sates, president of the National Cable Television Association, announced the plan at a gathering of cable industry executives. It comes at a time when both lawmakers and regulators, attempting to crack down on indecent programming, have discussed requiring cable companies to let subscribers buy individual channels or a family-friendly tier, rather than have to purchase packages that include both the Disney Channel and MTV. The cable industry opposes the idea.
The announcement comes before Thursday's Senate Commerce Committee hearing on cable television. The committee, which earlier this month voted to raise the maximum fine for indecency from $27,500 to $500,000, narrowly defeated an effort to apply broadcast indecency standards to cable and satellite channels such as Spike TV and FX.
"No one wants policy-makers to have to choose between protecting children or preserving the First Amendment," Sachs told the Cable Television Public Affairs Association. "So if we, as an industry, actively promote the choices and controls available to consumers, there will be no need for anyone to do so."
Cable association spokesman Rob Stoddard said each cable company will decide on the technology to supply to block unwanted channels. One popular way to block programs in homes without cable boxes is to install a filter on the wire leading into the home. Cable companies now charge for such equipment, though the prices vary from system to system.
The cable industry also launched a new Web site, www.controlyourtv.org, which includes instructions on how parents can use the V-chip in televisions built in 2000 and later to block both broadcast and cable programs. The V-chip works with a voluntary industry ratings system.
"This is what we think is the best method of addressing all those concerns," Stoddard said. "It leaves the power in the hands of the cable subscriber."
The cable industry earlier this month said it would air a series of advertisements telling parents that they can block unwanted programming. Information also will be sent to cable customers in their bills.
With 85 percent of the 108.4 million U.S. households with televisions subscribing to either cable or satellite, some lawmakers have suggested that cable-only channels such as Spike TV or FX be subject to the same indecency rules as over-the-air broadcast television.