Beware the FCC’s New Kids-Web Rules

At the CES show last week, Disney CEO Bob Iger unveiled the next-generation of “This will be the digital doorway into Disney, both a destination and portal into a vibrant entertainment experience,” he said during his keynote address. “You’re only one click away from all things Disney, wherever you go.”

For the sake of TV stations and cable operators, one hopes that Website users are actually two clicks or more away from some things Disney. The FCC’s new Website-display rules, including a two-click policy, became effective Jan. 2, and Website developers need to understand them. This will be a challenge, given the FCC’s inadequate guidance.

Under the new rules, broadcasters and cable operators may not display a Website address during programming directed to children age 12 and under unless the Website complies with FCC standards.

The new rules seem to mandate that Website e-commerce areas are not directly accessible from the Web page whose address is displayed in the programming (that is, such commercial content must be “two clicks” away).

But the FCC is vague. For example, Websites must contain a “substantial amount of bona fide program-related or other noncommercial content,” but the FCC provides no guidance to what “substantial amount,” “bona fide,” or “noncommercial” means. The Website may not be “primarily intended for commercial purposes,” but, in some sense, isn’t any Website from a commercial entity primarily intended for commercial purposes?

While it is broadcasters who will ultimately suffer the consequences of any noncompliance, it is Website developers who most need to understand the rules. The FCC has typically provided “layman” versions of its rules on its “For Consumers” area of its Website. But to the extent that the FCC is going to propagate rules that affect industries outside of its direct jurisdiction, it needs to provide relevant compliance guides to help.

The FTC Website has a business section that provides compliance guides with straightforward information like “How To Comply With the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule.”

The FCC should follow the FTC’s lead. A “How To Design a Children’s Television Act-Compliant Website” guide, which would provide practical diagrams and hypotheticals, would be a helpful tool to broadcasters, cable operators and program producers, who could direct their Website developers to the FCC publication. They’re going to need it.