The Federal Communications Commission has a very important mission, but it’s not being fulfilled.
In fact, the opposite has been happening over the past few days and it’ll likely lead to less children’s programming â€“ and less attention when you complain about your TV, phone company or internet service provider.
The FCC says its mission is to regulate
â€œinterstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories. An independent U.S. government agency overseen by Congress, the Commission is the federal agency responsible for implementing and enforcing America’s communications law and regulations.â€
But the amount of regulation looks to be receding faster than cars in a race.
Do you have kids, or know anyone who puts their kids in front of the TV?
Axios reports the FCC is starting to loosen broadcasters’ requirements for children’s TV programming. You know, those stations that are licensed by the government to use the public airwaves for the public interest.
You probably watched Saturday morning cartoons. They weren’t just fun but also carried a message or lesson. Even breaks in programming like ABC’s Schoolhouse Rock! were educational. I’d go as far as to credit NBC’s The More You Know.
Cartoons were on all three networks when there were only three commercial broadcast networks, plus Fox may have even gotten into the act before the end. The new kid on the block did carry weekday afternoon cartoons, early on, when it had weaker stations that didn’t carry news.
News. That’s the magic word. It’s cheaper to produce and stations can pretty much put as many commercials in as they want.
NBC was first with Weekend Today. Then CBS and ABC came up with weekend editions of their weekday morning shows. (CBS did have Sunday Morning before the Saturday cartoon era ended.) And eventually, local stations followed. The news looked a lot like the previous night’s 11:00 news, just with different people!
It wasn’t like there was much going on most of the time.
OK, so I did produce newscasts with JFK Jr.’s deadly plane crash and EliÃ¡n GonzÃ¡lezâ€™s capture from his Miami relatives’ closet on weekend mornings while at WCAU in Philadelphia. I had the morning off from KYW-TV when the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas while returning to Earth, killing all seven crew members.
But the new newscasts didn’t have to be good back then. It was the same when TV stations started putting local news on, weekday mornings. The TV station just had to let viewers know the world hadn’t ended, we weren’t at war and what the weather would be like.
Now, the FCC says the old rules aren’t needed because kids these days have apps and streaming services just for them! (Do they all have access? Really?)
Axios reports Nielsen data says the prime target of the rules — kids between 2 and 11 â€“ are watching about 22 percent less regular TV between 2014 and 2017. Any wonder, when there’s nothing on for them? Put the youngsters in front of Fox News Channel and Days of Our Lives.
Instead, they’re using â€œapps like YouTube Kids, 24/7 kid-friendly cable channels like Nickelodeon and Disney Junior, on-demand shows like Sesame Street on HBO, and over-the-top kids programming on Netflix.â€
FCC commissioners who want to lessen the kid rules refer to them as among the many â€œoutdated, unnecessary, or unduly burdensomeâ€ ones on the books, according to Deadline magazine.
They say TV broadcasters have too many rules to follow, while tech companies don’t have any, so this would just make things fairer. But I say that’s because tech companies don’t use the public’s airwaves!
What are those rules and how burdensome are they?
â€œIn 1990, Congress passed the Children’s Television Act, which requires broadcasters to air three hours of educational programming per week (with limited advertising) in order to maintain their license. Children’s programming must also meet certain â€˜Kid Vidâ€™ requirements with respect to educational purpose, length and the time of day it is aired.â€
My heart goes out to them.
Nobody is saying the three hours of educational programming per week has to be original. The networks, or syndication companies, or companies that own more than 100 TV stations can come up with it!
On the other hand, back in the day, it seemed every TV station had its own locally-produced children’s programming with live studio audiences, and I’m not referring to Captain Kangaroo which aired on CBS. Of course, back then, they also took news seriously, too!
Coming up next (using a TV phrase), it’s up to us â€“ the public â€“ to comment on the proposal. Then, the FCC will vote on final changes, later this year. If they succeed, Deadline says
â€œbroadcasters could be able to satisfy government requirements that they produce appropriate children’s far by â€˜relying in part on special sponsorship efforts and/or special non-broadcast efforts.â€™â€
Speaking of the public telling the FCC what we think, that federal agency will probably soon start forcing us to pay $225 to file ― and for them to review ― a formal complaint against a telecom company! That means broadband, TV, and phone companies.
Yes, it’s hard to believe. No, I’m not making this up. This is America, 2018.
Thursday, according to Ars Technica, the FCC voted 3-1 to stop reviewing informal consumer complaints.
The fifth seat ― to be held by a Democrat ― has not been filled since Mignon Clyburn resigned last month. (As if that vote would’ve changed things!)
You’d still have to pay the $225 even if your internet service provider, which you pay every month, doesn’t respond to your informal complaint.
What would cause the FCC to make this move? I was wondering the same thing.
Turns out, Ars Technica reports the biggest change will be â€œthe text of the FCC’s rule about informal complaints.â€
In other words, this is how things have been!
â€œNothing is substantively changing in the way that the FCC handles informal complaints,â€ FCC Chairman AjitÂ Pai said. â€œWe’re simply codifying the practices that have been in place since 1986.â€
That’s when Ronald Reagan was president.
But the commission’s only Democrat, Jessica Rosenworcel, remembered things differently.
Ars Technica reports she said the FCC has reviewed informal complaints in the past.
â€œThis is bonkers,â€ sheÂ saidÂ at Thursday’s meeting. â€œNo one should be asked to pay $225 for this agency to do its job. No one should see this agency close its doors to everyday consumers looking for assistance in a marketplace that can be bewildering to navigate. There are so many people who think Washington is not listening to them and that the rules at agencies like this one are rigged against them â€“ and today’s decision only proves that point.â€
Rosenworcel said the FCC gets 25,000 to 30,000 informal complaints a month.
â€œAfter they are filed, the agency studies the complaint, determines what happened, and then works with providers to fix consumer problems,â€ Rosenworcel said. â€œFor decades, this has been the longstanding practice of this agency. But for reasons I do not understand, today’s order cuts the FCC out of the process. Instead of working to fix problems, the agency reduces itself to merely a conduit for the exchange of letters between consumers and their carriers. Then, following the exchange of letters, consumers who remain unsatisfied will be asked to pay a $225 fee to file a formal complaint just to have the FCC take an interest.â€
On top of the formal complaint process being expensive, it’s also complicated.
â€œParties filing formal complaints usually are represented by lawyers or experts in communications law and the FCC’s procedural rules,â€
the FCCÂ says.
If the change becomes final, two references to the commission’s review and â€œdispositionâ€ of each informal complaint will be removed fromÂ theÂ FCC complaints rule.
Then, even if you get no response, you’ll have to file a formal complaint â€“ and pay.
This comes as part of a larger rulemaking aimed at “streamlining” the formal complaint process.
According to FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, “Today’s decision is another win for good government.”
I wonder what we did to deserve that!
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