FCC Sends Report On Indecency-Blocking To Congress
August 31, 2009 at 3:32 PM (PT)
The "new" FCC is looking a lot like the "old" FCC regarding indecency regulation, with the release of a report to Congress on "blocking technologies" for media that indicates that, at least as it pertains to television, the Commission will continue to follow the doctrine of "time-channeling" indecent content outside the 6a-10p time frame. Unswayed by the availability of blocking devices like the V-chip, the Commission's report on the "Child Safe Viewing Act" reasoned that the fact that the chip isn't used to any great extent by consumers "reinforced the necessity of the commission's regulation."
the Commission is 'unaware of any current blocking technology that would allow parents to protect their children from indecent or objectionable audio programming on terrestrial radio'
The report recounted comments received about regulating audio-only content but did not draw conclusions about radio other than to note that the Commission is "unaware of any current blocking technology that would allow parents to protect their children from indecent or objectionable audio programming on terrestrial radio" and to counter the CENTER FOR DEMOCRACY AND TECHNOLOGY's assertion that "there does not appear to be any significant perception of a problem with inappropriate content" on terrestrial radio by noting that "the Commission continues to receive numerous radio broadcast indecency complaints."
At the end of the report, the Commission concluded, "The record in this proceeding demonstrates that a market exists for advanced blocking technologies and other parental empowerment tools, although data is lacking in certain key areas, such as awareness and usage levels, which warrant further study. Educational programs to increase awareness of parental control technologies have the potential to accelerate the rate of development, deployment, and adoption of these technologies. Parental control technologies vary greatly among media platforms, and even among different providers within the same media platform, with respect to various criteria. While there are technologies in existence for each media platform, there is not currently a universal parental control technology that works across media platforms. To explore these issues and how to maximize benefits and minimize harms to children in this rapidly changing environment, the Commission intends to issue a further Notice of Inquiry exploring these issues and others relating to protecting children and empowering parents in the digital age."
Chairman JULIUS GENACHOWSKI wrote, "I cannot think of a more critical topic for the Commission to be considering right now than how to ensure that our children are protected from inappropriate content. Government has a vital role to play in helping parents and protecting children, while honoring and abiding by the First Amendment." Commissioner MICHAEL COPPS appeared to contemplate more regulation when he added, "In the final analysis, it may be that other tools -- a voluntary code of conduct, a Commission rule, a federal statute -- may be needed to meet the goals of true child safe viewing."
Commissioner ROBERT MCDOWELL, more skeptical of additional regulation, noted, "despite what we now know about existing parental-control technologies, we still lack data and analysis required to grapple with such thorny issues as the need for possible improvements, if any, to existing systems and the scope of our legal authority to take actions that some may see as desirable."
Commissioner MIGNON CLYBURN concentrated on the limited use of existing technology, writing, "What remains unexamined is exactly why parents have not adopted the various advanced blocking technologies. Are they simply unaware? Are the technologies too confusing? Is the discontinuity in the ratings a factor? These are critical questions that must be answered if we are to come to grips with why the V-chip and other technologies of its kind have failed to become a meaningful part of the viewing experiences of American families. The information is out there; our job is to find and cultivate it."
Commissioner MEREDITH BAKER wrote, "While increased Commission regulation should not be the solution here, I cannot agree with those industry commenters who maintain that the status quo is acceptable. Parents must be provided access to reliable programming ratings information and easy to use blocking and filtering tools. Because such technologies must be improved, we need a full, collaborative effort by all stakeholders, pooling their resources and expertise. Together, we can build on the V-chip and fashion new, more technologically advanced mechanisms to enable parents to protect their children from harmful content over any platform. In light of the current level of V-chip use, we must also find ways to more effectively reach out to parents and make them familiar with these resources, so that they will become more comfortable using them."