Updated: FCC Says Content-Management Survey Fails To Answer Some Key Questions
Further Study Needed On Certain Issues
John Eggerton August 31, 2009

The Federal Communication Commission commissioners have voted to adopt a 80-plus-page report on video content-management technologies, which was submitted to Congress by the Aug. 29 deadline and released to the public Monday. But they say the report's record of current and proposed technologies still fails to answer key questions and that it will be looking for more information.

The report categorizes and analyzes various options for blocking technologies and other parental control tools for broadcast TV, cable, satellite, wireless, DVDs and the Internet, concluding, as reported last week, that no single technology works across all platforms and that there is a need for more education and information for parents about the tools available, with "many commenters" urging a more substantial role for government.

The FCC did not say whether or not it would take that more substantial role, but it is in the process of reviewing its children's TV regulations more broadly with an eye toward how they may need to change in the digital world.

In addtion to lacking a unified ratings system, the FCC said, there are also wide variances on technologies for different platforms, including with respect to cost, awareness and promotion, adoption rates, customer suppor, ease of use, ease of work-around by tech-friendly kids, and much more.

"While the record that was created in response to inquiry contains some important information for parents, it also raises important questions and exposes the need for further study of this essential issue," said FCC chairman Julius Genachowski in a statement. "In the days ahead, the Commission will initiate a new notice of inquiry that will seek to gather new information on this topic as well as others related to children and media in the digital age."

Among the things the FCC said it needs to study further, and which it will make the basis of yet another Notice of Inquiry, are the level of consumer awareness and the pace of adoption. Specific questions it wants answers to:

To what extent are parents aware of the control technologies that exist today?

Does parental awareness differ among media?

Are there reasons besides lack of awareness that keep parents from using these technologies?

If so, what are they, and do they differ among media?

It appears that adoption of control technologies may be greater for the Internet than for broadcasting and other traditional media sources: Why is this so?

Are there data to determine the pace of innovation in parental control technologies, whether innovation is proceeding at a pace consistent with other consumer technologies, and whether evolving needs of parents, caregivers, and children are being satisfied in a timely manner?
The report was delivered to Senator Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) over the weekend, according to a source. It was his bill that compelled the FCC to produce the report.

The FCC got a shout-out from Pryor Monday, particularly for its willingness to keep digging to answer those unanswered questions.

"While the report contains a beneficial catalogue of the most up-to-date tools available," he said in a statement, "it also reveals basic roadblocks and major limitations. I appreciate FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski's commitment to address these challenges, especially his decision to take immediate and concrete steps responding to the concerns exposed under this review." The senator was referring to the further notice of inquiry the FCC said it would launch, rather than any specific policy recommendation, which the report did not make.

He pledged to continue to work with Commerce Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and others on content-control solutions. Rockefeller has signalled this is a big issue with him.

Rockefeller praised the FCC's report Monday, but called it only a first step for the commission and said Congress would likely still need to weigh in.

"[T]this alone is not enough," he said in a statement. "Like so many parents across the country, I believe more must be done - by the industry, by the FCC, and by the Congress - to provide simple ways for families to control and monitor their children's screen time. We must offer the tools and policies that make it easy for people to be good parents and oversee the viewing that goes on in their homes. We must do more than simply gather information and hope this alone protects our children.

"For this reason, I look forward to the FCC's next action in this area. My interest level in this issue has long been high, as are my expectations. I will continue fighting for these important protections and look forward to working with Senator Pryor and my other Commerce Committee colleagues on this vitally important issue."

At a Hill hearing on possible revisions to the FCC's childrens TV regs in the digital age, Rockefeller made it clear he would continue to push for government oversight of violent content. He has prviously introduced legislation that would extend the FCC's content regulation authority to violence.