The FCC has quietly released its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on implementation of the CALM (Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation) Act, which regulates the loudness of commercials on broadcast and cable TV.

It puts the onus on stations and cable operators to mitigate that loudness on all commercials, not just those that are locally inserted, as some industry representatives had argued it should be limited to.

The NPRM also asked for input on what challenges some stations and cable operators will have in complying with the new rules, and even more important, proposed solutions. Among the questions it wants answered are if a cable operator retransmits a TV station whose commercials don't comply, who does the FCC hold responsible?

The FCC said it will add a "commercial loudness" category to its menu of complaints over "Broadcast (TV and Radio), Cable, and Satellite Issues."

The CALM Act empowers the FCC to regularize the volume between programming and commercials. It adopts the Advanced Television Systems Committee's recommended practices for variations in commercial volume in relation to the programs around them.

In other words, viewers will not have to ride gain on the boosted volume of some commercials coming in and out of shows.

The bill directs the FCC to regulate commercial volume per the ATSC recommendations adopted last November. It gives cable operators and broadcasters a year from the law's adoption to comply.

The rules allow for a one-year waiver for stations or cable operators who can show it would be a financial hardship to implement. It says it will interpret that wavier broadly, not requiring that stations show recognizing that "television broadcast stations in smaller markets and smaller cable systems may face greater challenges budgeting for the purchase of equipment to comply with the bill than television broadcast stations in larger markets or larger cable systems."

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), who was of the driving forces behind the Act, praised the move, saying the FCC had taken "an important step" toward implementation.

The bill passed Dec. 15, 2010, and gave the FCC a year to complete the rulemaking. It still needs to get the proposed implementation regime vetted by the public and the Office of Management and Budget (because it adds paperwork) and published in the Federal Register before it is official, after which the industry has another year to comply.

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.