The Supreme Court gave the government authority Monday to force cable TV networks to stop offering sexually explicit programs during most of the day if they cannot completely block the programing from homes that do not sign up for it.
In an order with no comment, the justices unanimously upheld a lower-court decision that rejected a constitutional challenge by the Playboy and Spice networks against part of the 1996 cable indecency law. That law seeks to guarantee that children do not view indecent programs on cable TV.
The justices did not rule that the law is constitutional. But they agreed the law is likely to be upheld in court when a full trial is held on its validity. The action allows the Federal Communications Commission to begin enforcing the law, which has been blocked while the first case involving it made its way to the Supreme Court.
The law was aimed primarily at Playboy Entertainment Group, which operates the Playboy Television and AdulTVision networks, and Spice Entertainment Companies, which operates the Adam & Eve and Spice networks.
Nearly all their offerings are considered indecent under the 1996 law. They provide their programs directly only to the households that subscribe to them, but many TV sets in non-sub scribers' homes are capable of picking up some of the visuals or audio of those shows. That phenomenon is called "signal bleed."
The law gives cable operators two options to avoid sending programs to non-subscribers:
They can adopt new and fairly expensive scrambling and blocking techniques to assure that there is no unintended viewing or listening.
They can cancel those shows between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., when children are most likely to be watching. That leaves only an eight-hour showing time, from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.
Cable operators have indicated that they would take the second option, because the first is far too expensive with present technology. The second option _ achieving a blackout of adult programing except during the eight hours between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. _ also would be costly, however.