Now Hear This: House Subcommittee Approves Commercial Loudness Bill

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The House Communications Subcommittee has approved a bill that would require the broadcast and cable industries, which includes satellite and other multichannel video providers, to regularize the volume of
advertisements and the programming surrounding them.

By a voice vote, the committee passed the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act, backed by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), and referred it to the full Energy & Commerce Committee.

Eshoo said the bill premise was simple: "To make the volume of commercials and programming uniform so that spikes in volume do not affect the consumer's ability to control sound." Eshoo said that ad volume spikes had "endangered hearing for decades." She also said legislative spouses had been urging their husbands or wives to sign on as co-sponsors. "I think they are all tired of getting blasted out of their easy chairs or off their exercise equipment due to these ridiculously loud commercials."

As reported by Multichannel News, the bill was modified from the original form to give the broadcast and cable industry more time to implement the technology and to make an industry-backed engineering standard the rules for the road.

The bill would give the FCC a year to adopt a commercial volume standard being produced by the Advanced Television Systems Committee that keeps the volume uniform between ads and programs, then give the industry a year after the FCC adopts rules to purchase and install the necessary equipment. It also includes up to two, one-year waivers for financial hardship. "Small stations and cable operators certainly should be able to comply within three years, she said, "plus the amount of time it takes for the FCC to complete and release the rules." But she said there would not be an "open ended" waiver process that drags on.

While broadcasters have up to a year, or more if they need waivers, Eshoo said her preference was "voluntary and immediate adoption of the standards by broadcasters, cable, satellite and all multichannel service providers.

The committee is expected to be ready to unveil the standard by next month, according to an industry source. The industry was hoping to head off legislation with a voluntary standard. Eshoo commended the ATSC and the effort as one that should "end the practice of commercials outstripping the sound of programming--sources say she was impressed by a demonstration of the technology a few weeks back--but she also said Thursday that Congress needed to legislate the standard.

"I wish that we could trust everyone to voluntarily comply," she said, "but the industry's track record has not been so great in this regard."

Eshoo said she would take into consideration what she called an 11th hour complaint from small cable operators that the standard would be hardship on them, and Subcommittee chairman Rick Boucher (D-Va.) said he would meet with small cable operators to discuss their concerns and desire for a carve-out from the bill.

Rep. Zack Space (D-Ohio), raised the issue of the impact of the bill on small cable operators. He said that while he was not disputing the need for uniform commercial volume, he said the bill, "perhaps unintentionally" was prejudiced {against] small operators.

Space pointed out that many of those operators did not insert ads themselves or have "the right to alter national feeds unilaterally, like some of the bigger cable companies." He said that those operators "simply pass through broadcast signals and have no means of adjusting the volume of commercials on the stream."

He said the bill could impose burdens and hefty fines on the operators "for something over which they have very little control.

"At this stage, I'm wary of an 11th-hour amendment, and I want to study its potential effects before accepting it," said Eshoo. "No one has raised this for over two years, We need to make sure we are not creating an unnecessary loophole."

She said she didn't see the problem. "Larger cable operators will contract with the various network to use proper modulation for retransmission, then smaller operators will automatically receive properly modulated transmission from Weather Channel or Food Network, for instance."

She also said local TV stations will have to comply, and if they don't and seek a waiver, cable operators can also apply for a waiver. She said that those seeking an exemption for small cable operators seem to presume that broadcasters won't comply with the law. "I expect all broadcasters to comply with the law of seek a waiver. If they don't there are serious consequences."

That said, she said she would listen to those concerns before a full-committee markup.

At the same hearing, the subcommittee approved, also on voice votes, allowing more low-power FM stations by removing third-adjacent-channel interference protections for full-power broadcasters, and a bill to extend the funding and application process for states tapping into the 700 MHz auction money set aside for interoperable
first responder communications.

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