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PFF to FCC: Tread Lightly in Content Control Technologies Review

The Progress and Freedom Foundation has advised the FCC to tread lightly in its review of content control technologies.

PFF Senior Fellow Adam Thierer argues that the commission has no authority over most of the media platforms whose content control it will be reviewing, and that most homes don't need parental control technologies because parents either rely on other methods or there are no kids in the house.

That advice came in comments to the commission on its review. "One might argue that merely studying the marketplace poses no harm, but what raises flags here are the Commission's regulatory powers, which often run afoul of the First Amendment's prohibition against content-meddling-even indirectly-with free speech and artistic expression," he told the commission.

At the direction of Congress, the FCC last month opened an inquiry into the state of the content control art in broadcasting, cable, satellite, the Internet and mobile devices.

The FCC was required to open the inquiry by the Child Safe Viewing Act, which passed in the last Congress.

The bill specifically requires the FCC to collect data on the most advanced methods for blocking video content, including on wired and wireless platforms and across a variety of platforms including TVs, DVD players, VCRs, cable set-tops and wireless handsets. It is then required to present that data in a report to Congress by Aug. 29.

Among the topics the FCC wants input on is possible improvements to the V-chip and ratings system, citing a 2007 Kaiser Family Foundation study finding that most people don't understand them.

It was not clear how many organizations filed comments because the FCC docket was filled with thousands of comments from the public, most of only a few lines. They were either complaining about foul language and calling for more government involvement--"Please put anti-porn, anti-smut software into all television sets and cable/wireless access devices," said one commenter; "I want the foul content filter for my television to be available after April," said another--or arguing against government involvement--"I neither want or need blocking hardware or software," said one commenter. "The FCC is wasting time and money on this? If parents want to block or filter what their child is looking at on the computer or TV, they already have the ability to, it's called parenting," said another.

Comments are due April 16, with replies due May 18.

The FCC has a full docket of data collection and review over the next several months, including on video competition, broadband deployment, and ownership diversity.

John Eggerton
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.