Declaring television coarser than ever, a top federal regulator served notice on cable and satellite programmers Tuesday to shield children from racy shows or risk coming under sharper government scrutiny.

"Parents need better and more tools to help them navigate the entertainment waters, particularly on cable and satellite TV," Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin told Congress.

In addition to expanding federal decency standards to include cable and satellite programs, Martin suggested several options, including creating a "family-friendly" tier of channels that would offer shows suitable for kids, such as the programs shown on the Nickelodeon channel.

He also said that cable and satellite providers might want to consider letting consumers pay for a bundle of channels that they could choose themselves, a variation of the so-called "a la carte" pricing system that some in Congress have backed.

"You can always turn the television off and, of course, block the channels you don't want," Martin said, "but why should you have to?"

Cable and satellite providers complain that "a la carte" pricing or tiers would drive up costs for equipment, customer service and marketing — charges that would likely be passed to subscribers.