TV blocking is back; FCC requests comments

Wed, 03/04/2009 - 7:40am
Brian Santo

Channel blocking is back. The Child Safe Viewing Act, passed in 2007, went into effect at the end of 2008, triggering the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to issue an official notice of inquiry (NOI) requesting information on advanced blocking technologies.

The NOI reads: “We invite comment on advanced blocking technologies that may be appropriate across various distribution platforms, including wired, wireless and Internet platforms. We also invite comment on the statutory definition of ‘advanced blocking technologies.’ Whereas the Commission has defined the term ‘indecent’ in other contexts, the Act appears to leave determination of what is ‘indecent’ or ‘objectionable’ entirely to the individual discretion of parents. We invite comment on this interpretation and on any other issues regarding the statutory definition of advanced blocking technologies.”

Ten years ago, the V-chip was the supposed answer, but that solution never attracted wide acceptance among consumers. In fact, most consumers still don’t know it exists, according to research cited by the FCC.

Finding new and effective solutions may be complicated by the ability of consumers to move content across various playback devices and storage media.

The FCC is asking cable and satellite providers (and presumably telco IPTV providers) to comment on technologies that could be implemented with set-top boxes in general, and digital video recorders (DVRs) in particular:

“We invite comment on the additional parental control options available to cable and satellite subscribers. What tools are available to parents, how easy are these tools to use, and how widely are they employed by parents to control what their children watch? Like the V-chip, cable set-top boxes and satellite receivers permit parents to block programs that contain certain ratings under the TV Parental Guidelines. Are these boxes easier to use than the V-chip? In addition, digital cable set-top boxes and satellite receivers offer the option of blocking entire channels or blocking individual programs. We are interested in any research that compares cable and satellite blocking devices to the V-chip, particularly in terms of ease of use and popularity with parents. We also invite comment on blocking technology for DVRs.”

This time around, blocking technology by statute must not affect the packaging or pricing of content providers’ offerings.

On the positive side, that means providers don’t have to bear the costs of blocking technology. On the downside, that might make it even more difficult to develop implementations that are technologically and economically feasible.

And then there are legal issues. Attempts to provide innovative blocking technology can open up legal questions that remain unresolved, such as this proposal reported on by CED (story here).

The full text of the FCC’s NOI is here.

More Broadband Direct 03/04/09:
•  Comcast hits the pedal on DOCSIS 3.0 in Bay Area
•  Cablevision draws a bead on targeted advertising
•  TV blocking is back; FCC requests comments
•  DirecTV open to subscriber-only online shows
•  BigBand Networks bows new product to bypass CMTS
•  ZillionTV to offer free Internet TV content
•  CableLabs hosts Tru2way Developer Conference
•  Ixia gets sophisticated with VoIP testing
•  Codetel deploys CopperGate's HomePNA 3.1
•  Blockbuster hires law firm to handle refinancing
•  Broadband Briefs for 03/04/09



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