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FCC Commissioners Indicate Range of Concerns, Solutions For Content-Blocking Technologies

Report raises questions as to scope of commission's legal authority

John Eggerton
Broadcasting & Cable
August 31, 2009

While all the FCC's five commissioners signed onto the just-released content-blocking technologies report, their accompanying statements gave an indication of the range of their concern, from Democrat Michael Copps, who suggested there still might need to be new regulations or congressional action, to Republican Robert McDowell, who warned of potential jurisdictional issues and pointed out the range of technologies already put forth by industry without a government mandate.

Saying "graphically violent and indecent content are all too present," Copps warned that parents may need to be armed with more than just information about existing technologies.

"For all the gains new technology tools may bring us, let's not jump to the conclusion that technology alone is necessarily the whole answer," he said. "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," he said, using martial imagery like "bombardment" and "barrages" and "first line of defense."

New Republican Commissioner Meredith Baker appeared to view it as a content assault as well, also labeling it a "barrage" of indecent, violent "and "otherwise objectionable" programming.

But while she said she did not agree with industry comments that the status quo was good enough, she also said that increased regulation should not be the solution, citing First Amendment concerns and mirroring McDowell's concerns about the limits of the FCC's statutory authority.

New Democratic Commissioner Mignon Clyburn focused on what she said was the confusion inherent in the current myriad of content-control technologies. "It appears that many parents are unaware of these technologies or, even if aware, they have been unable to figure out how to use them," she said in her statement. "The upshot is that parents are currently wading around in a digital gumbo, either unfamiliar with the many available tools or simply overwhelmed by them."

She said the situation was exacerbated by the current economy, with many parents forced to work longer hours, meaning more children with less direct supervision. She made it clear she thought the government needed to step into the breech. "[O]ur duty is to find ways to help parents maintain a presence even when they are not actually there. Families deserve that level of security and peace of mind."

McDowell simply said he was pleased to deliver, "on time" the required overview. He pointed out that one thing the report showed was that there was an "array of filtering technologies" already out there, many of which, he said, were in response to consumer demand rather than government mandate.

He called the reports a solid foundation for future study, study which he said should include the scope of the FCC's legal authority.

Among the questions raised about the inquiry is just what authority the FCC would have over a unified rating system that applied to areas arguably beyond the FCC's regulator scope, like DVD's or cable, satellite, wireless and Internet video content.

 

 

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