Cable television operators determine the channels that are available on their cable systems. To help increase the number of subscribers, a cable operator will select channels that appear likely to attract a broad spectrum of viewers. Because of this, a cable subscriber may receive programs as part of a programming package that he or she does not wish to view.
Federal law now requires broadcasters of most programming available on television to alert viewers if a program contains violence, inappropriate language, or other material that a viewer may find offensive. Generally, the broadcaster and not the cable operator is responsible for the programming that is shown on a particular channel. The cable operator usually does not have the right to prevent the transmission of a program containing objectionable material. Individual subscribers, however, have two important tools that they may use to prevent programs or channels from being viewed on their television sets.
- Lockboxes. These are devices a subscriber may buy or lease from the subscriber’s cable company. They are also available from some retail electronic stores. A lockbox can literally lock particular channels so that the programming cannot be viewed.
- V-chip. A V-chip is circuitry in a television capable of identifying governmental ratings and blocking the programming that an individual finds inappropriate. Depending on its technical specifications, the V-chip may block individual programs, or it may be used to block one or more channels entirely. All television screens that are 13-inches or larger and that are manufactured or imported for use in the United States are required by law to be equipped with the V-chip. The law required manufacturers to produce 50% of their televisions with the V-chip by 1999, and the remaining 50% were to contain the v-chip by 2000. Televisions not equipped with a V-chip may be fitted with one.