Senate Passes Pryor's Content-Blocking Study

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Washington—The Senate passed a bill Wednesday that requires the Federal Communications Commission to study parents' access to advanced technologies capable of blocking content on television and the Internet.

The FCC is restricted to conducting a study for Congress within 270 days and its analysis is not supposed to recommend technologies that "affect the packaging or pricing of a content provider's offering."

The Senate bill (S.602), sponsored by Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark,) passed unanimously. House approval is required before the bill can go to the White House for President Bush's signature.

"It's time for the FCC to take a fresh look at how the market can empower parents with more tools to choose appropriate programming for their children. This bill is a pragmatic, sensible approach where parents, kids and technology can all benefit," Pryor said in a prepared statement after the vote.

Because the House is expected to focus on the $700 billion financial bailout package before going home to campaign later in the week, the Pryor bill probably won't be enacted during this Congress. However, a lame duck session after the Nov. 4 election remains a possibility.

The Pryor bill—the Child Safe Viewing Act—is another effort at finding a technological fix to the problem of children viewing indecent and excessively violent content supplied by broadcasters, pay TV operators and now Internet-access providers.

The FCC is required to issue a notice of inquiry and is not authorized to adopt rules under the bill.

Among other things, Pryor's bill directs the FCC to examine "the existence and availability of advanced blocking technologies that are compatible with various communications devices or platforms."

It orders the FCC to study ways to encourage parental use of such technologies on "wired, wireless and Internet platforms" in order to shield children "from indecent or objectionable programming" as determined by parents.

Almost all new TV sets today must include the V-chip, the technology which allows parents to block TV shows based on content ratings provided by the owners of broadcast and cable channels. Digital cable set-top boxes also come with sophisticated blocking tools, filtering content by show, time, channel and rating.

Pryor is concerned about the underutilization of the V-chip based on studies that found parents are unaware of the technology or they fault it because the accompanying ratings system can be inaccurate and not applied in a uniform manner by the same network or across networks.

"With over 500 channels and video streaming, parents could use a little help monitoring what their kids watch when they are not in the room,"  Pryor said.  "Today's technology to protect children from indecency goes above and beyond the capabilities of the V-chip," Pryor said.

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