Senate Passes CALM Act, But House Re-Vote Needed

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The CALM Act, which regularizes the volume of cable and broadcast commercials, passed the Senate Wednesday.

It had already passed in the House, but there were some changes that require a re-vote in the House before it becomes law. That won't be until November, since the House adjourned Wednesday night so legislators could try to get re-elected.

The CALM (Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation) Act officially 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 Senate version has a few slight tweaks. One clarifies that the standards will be an FCC "mandate," not simply an incorporation of the ATSC guidelines. Another extends that mandate to any "successor" standard approved by ATSC. Any change in a bill requires a re-vote in the other chamber.

A third change deals with the language of a waiver (up to two years beyond the effective date) for small cable operators or stations for whom adopting the regime, and the equipment necessary to regularize the volume, would be a financial hardship.

The waiver language in both the House and Senate versions is the same, but the Senate bill makes reference to it higher in the bill as a parenthetical caveat in the language establishing the mandate, saying that mandate is "subject to any waivers the commission may grant."

The Senate version was introduced by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), but the key driver of the bill was House sponsor Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.).

"I'm thrilled that today we're just one step away from sending this commonsense consumer bill to the President for his signature," Eshoo said. "I'm grateful to Senators Whitehouse and Rockefeller for shepherding the CALM Act through the Senate and I look forward, both as a sponsor of the bill and as a consumer, to finally passing it into law."

Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) was a strong backer and co-sponsor of the bill, as was Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). ""It's about time we turned down the volume on loud commercials that try to startle TV watchers into paying attention, said Schumer. "This is a simple step that will keep ads at the same decibel level as the programs they are interrupting."