The Storm Before the CALM


Washington —There’s been a lot of noise at the Federal
Communications Commission in advance of its vote
next month to implement the CALM Act — the bill aimed
at keeping the audio level of TV commercials on par with
that of the shows around them.

For cable operators, it’s imperative to pin down just
what their responsibilities will be, including whether
they have to monitor thousands of ads themselves. The
FCC has said it would use “the full range of enforcement
tools available to us,” and also ask for further comment
on whether there should be a baseline fine and what that
figure should be.

The FCC, which issued a notice of proposed rulemaking
on the CALM (which stands for Commercial Advertisment
Loudness Mitigation) Act back in May, has said it
will add a “commercial loudness” category to its menu
of complaints that can be lodged with the commission.

Small and midsized cable operators have been telling
the FCC that the agency could have legal troubles with
implementing the CALM Act, depending how that’s done.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association
has said operators should not be responsible for the volume
of national ads they don’t insert themselves.

Dish Network and DirecTV have argued that they
bump up the volume on entire channels to make sure all
their subs can hear them now, as it were, and want the
FCC to make it clear that implementation of the CALM
act does not prevent that.

Broadcasters have contended that they should not be
held responsible for loud commercials in network or syndicated

During meetings between FCC officials and industry
lobbyists, lawyers, executives and staff ers over the past
few weeks, the agency has gotten an earful as it prepares
to issue final rules to meet a congressionally mandated
Dec. 15 deadline for voting out the rules — industry has
a year from that date to comply.

The American Cable Association, the lobby group representing
smaller, independent cable operators, met
last week with FCC staffers to ask for a one-year blanket
waiver of the CALM Act requirements. “Because smaller
MVPDs are unable to spread the costs to comply with
the CALM Act over a large number of subscribers, as a
group they should receive a blanket one-year hardship
waiver with a possible one-year extension,“ the ACA told
the commission. And if the FCC does not give its members
that, the ACA wants a streamlined process for seeking
individual waivers.

The ACA said it has concerns about the limit of the
FCC’s legal authority over implementing what is a voluntary
loudness mitigation standard from the Advanced
Television Systems Committee (ATSC).

Many of the objections are getting pushback from at
least one powerful legislator with oversight of the FCC.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller
(D-W.Va.), concerned about the carve-outs being
pitched by the various industry players, sent a letter to
FCC chairman Julius Genachowski advising the agency
that “despite what some parties are suggesting,” Congress
meant to “turn down the volume on all television commercials,
regardless of the entity responsible for inserting
them into the programming.”