Dems to FCC: Leave Kids TV Rules Alone

Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and eight of his Democratic Senate colleagues have called on the FCC to preserve the FCC's Kidvid rules, which the commission is currently considering loosening to give broadcasters more flexibility on when and how to air that programming, or perhaps eliminating some entirely.

Markey has already written the FCC once to preserve the FCC rules implementing the 1992 Children's Television Act he helped write.

Commissioner Michael O'Rielly, who says the KidVid rules have not produced great TV, is leading the effort to review the rules. The FCC appears to have the three Republican votes to loosen them to some degree, which degree remains the unknown.

The FCC last June, along those partisan lines (the vote was 3 to 1), approved a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) that would loosen or eliminate some of those KidVid rules. The FCC still needs to vote on a final order, but it is clear there are the votes to make changes.

In a letter to the FCC commissioners dated Monday (Dec. 17) Markey and company said the FCC proposal would weaken the rules and "hamper" children's access to educational and informational content beneficial to them.

Related: Parents TV Council: FCC Needs to Reset Kids TV Rules

Some commenters have suggested that given the proliferation of online content for kids, there is less need for the three-hour per week mandate of E/I programming, or that it be on a TV station's primary channel, or that it be regulatory scheduled and most in half-hour chunks.

But the legislators say that would not ensure that all children, regardless of their income or access to high-speed broadband, could continue to have access to the programming they deserve. To do that, they say, the FCC must continue to require broadcasters to air three hours of regularly scheduled E/I programming per week on their primary channel (with the move to digital, broadcasters have enough spectrum to program multiple digital subchannels as well, where some had suggested the kids programming could be moved).

Related: KidVid Advocates Say Rules Weren't Made to Be Broken

As to the three-hour requirement for broadcast TV, they told the FCC that 15 households still rely only on broadcast TV--some estimates are higher--with that percentage overindexing for minorities (20% of Hipsanic households, for example). "Given the high price of cable television packages and streaming services and the lack of access to fixed, high-speed internet among 24 million Americans," they told the commissioners, "it is unsurprising that millions of American families rely on free broadcast television."

As to the programming being regularly scheduled, they said, somewhat optimistically, that without the ability to accurately anticipate when educational programming is going to be on, parents won't know when it is "safe" to let their children "take a break from homework or playtime to watch television."

And as for airing it on one of those digital subchannels, that would "further decrease children's access because viewership to those channels is "dwarfed" by the primary signal, and would lead to less such programming being produced.

Their final point is that broadcasters have a free license—broadcasters point out that many station owners have paid handsomely for the right to use that license because they are not the original "free" licensees.

Also signing on to the letter were Sens. Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Gary Peters (Mich.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Tammy Baldwin (Wisc.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Tammy Duckworth (Ill.), Elizabeth Warrren (Mass.) and Ron Wyden (Ore.).

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.