FCC Opens Inquiry under Child Safe Viewing Act
On March 3 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted a Notice of Inquiry (the “Notice”) pursuant to the Child Safe Viewing Act of 2007 (the “Act”).
The Act requires the FCC to study the existence and development of “advanced blocking technologies” that allow parents to control their children's access to “indecent or objectionable video or audio programming.” The Act also requires the Commission to examine “parental empowerment tools and initiatives already in the market” that address such access. The FCC must report its findings to Congress by Aug. 29, 2009.
Although the Act does not empower the FCC to adopt rules, the information gathered in this proceeding may potentially be used to expand the Commission's authority in significant ways. It broadens the focus of the FCC's historic concern over media content beyond broadcast and cable technologies to include the Internet, wireless devices and game systems, among others. It also expands the type of content at issue so as not to focus on the legal definition of “indecency,” but to any material that may be “objectionable,” such as programming that depicts violence, condones bad habits or that is commercial.
Accordingly, the Notice invites comment on a broad range of issues related to blocking technologies for television, cable and satellite, wireless and non-networked devices, Internet content, and blocking technologies for multiple platforms, including:
- Current and potential advanced blocking technologies for use across platforms generally and the statutory definition of “advanced blocking technology”;
- General methods of “development, deployment and use” of all current blocking technologies and efforts to expand technologies that are currently available (such as the V-chip);
- Whether Congress intended to examine audio technologies, audio/video technologies or both;
- The definition of “video programming” and whether Internet video should qualify as such;
- The extent to which children are circumventing blocking technologies; and
- Whether blocking technologies should be used in video games.
With regard to television blocking technologies, the Notice requests comment on:
- Potential new blocking technologies for television and possible improvements that could be made to current technologies (V-chip, ratings system, etc.) to make them more effective;
- The extent to which current ratings systems are applied accurately and whether they are effective;
- Whether commercials should be rated to permit blocking by the V-chip;
- Potential intellectual property concerns affecting the V-chip, ratings system and other similar technologies; and
- Possible blocking technologies that could filter language based on closed captions.
With regard to the Internet, the Notice requests comment on:
- Current and potential technologies/methods for controlling children's access to audio and video;
- How this inquiry compares with a related review performed by the nongovernmental Online Safety and Technology Working Group, and how that review is relevant to the current inquiry;
- Whether labeling is an effective measure in protecting children from inappropriate content; and
- The extent to which Internet “child safe zones” have been effective and whether there are other similar technologies in development.
The Notice also addresses blocking technologies for cable and satellite devices, digital video recorders (DVRs), wireless devices (such as cellular telephones), DVD players, VCRs and MP3 players. It requests comment on:
- What blocking technologies currently exist for these devices;
- What technologies are in development; and
- How to encourage technological development in these areas.
Comments must be filed by April 16, 2009, and reply comments by May 18, 2009.