Judge Suspends Rule to Block Programs

From Associated Press

A federal judge Thursday suspended part of a new telecommunications law requiring cable companies to block audio and video of sexually explicit programs. The law is being challenged by Playboy Enterprises Inc.

U.S. District Judge Joseph Farnan said Playboy has demonstrated that it was likely to succeed in its efforts to overturn that portion of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 on constitutional grounds.

The blocking provision, scheduled to take effect Saturday, applies to channels that are "primarily dedicated" to sexually explicit programs--Playboy's channels, for instance, or Spice or Adam & Eve--but not to sexually explicit programs on HBO, Showtime or other channels.

Playboy argued that the law is unconstitutional and discriminatory because it allows other premium cable channels to carry programming that can be found on the Playboy channel without its having to be blocked.

"This is a victory for sanity in government," said Christie Hefner, Playboy chairman and chief executive. "Playboy has always supported the right of individuals to control what comes into their homes."

Playboy and many other cable channels already scramble their signals, but the audio portion is often not scrambled.

The law requires cable companies to either black out sexually explicit channels or keep them off the air during the day. Playboy argued that it would lose viewers and revenue if companies limited when the service was available.

The blocking provisions will cost cable companies $300 million to $1 billion to implement, and those charges will ultimately be passed on to customers, Playboy has said.

In his ruling, the judge said Playboy had demonstrated that the provision would cause irreparable harm to the company and other cable businesses and that halting its enforcement was necessary until there is a final decision.

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