FCC Adopts V-Chip Standards
Mar. 12, 1998
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Parents would be able to block objectionable television programs from their TV sets and even from some computers under action taken by federal regulators Thursday.
The Federal Communications Commission adopted technical standards for equipping televisions and computers that contain TV tuners with the v-chip blocking technology.
The v-chip will let viewers block shows based on their TV ratings for sexual content, violence and objectionable language.
Televisions and computers with the blocking technology won't be available until next year, but regulators expect stand-alone blocking devices that could be attached to TV sets to be available in the next few months.
A 1996 law requires that televisions sold in the United States with screens 13 inches and larger must eventually have the blocking technology built in.
But the FCC, looking ahead to the day that people might watch some TV programs on computer screens, also required that the v-chip technology be installed in some computers: those with TV tuners and screens 13 inches and larger. There aren't many computers like that now, but the number is expected to grow.
Significantly, regulators stressed that the v-chip for computers would block only rated TV shows viewed on computers screens. It would not block video transmissions, news, information and other content carried on the Internet.
``So we're only talking about broadcast transmissions,'' said FCC Chairman Bill Kennard. ``This v-chip would not be used to screen content on the Internet.''
The FCC gave manufacturers more time to retool production lines to produce sets and computers with the v-chip. Manufacturers will be required to install blocking technology on half the sets and computers sold in America by July 1, 1999, and all of them by Jan. 1, 2000. That's a year later than the FCC proposed last year.
Blocking technology also is expected to be put into cable set-top boxes. Consumers may see a small price increase, or none at all, for TV sets and computers containing the v-chip, manufacturers said.
Devices that people can buy and attach to their TVs are estimated to cost $50 and up, regulators said.
But the Consumer Electronics Manufacturers Association doesn't expect a big demand for TV sets containing the v-chip.
``Nobody has been clamoring for them,'' said Jonathan Thompson, spokesman for the Consumer Electronics Manufacturers Association.
On average, people buy a new television every eight years. The industry estimates it would take four to six years for sets equipped with the v-chip to be in half the nation's 98 million TV households. There are now 250 million sets in the United States; about 23 million are sold each year.
While the v-chip is designed to work with TV ratings, viewers don't appear to using them much.
Seven in 10 adults say they pay little or no attention to the ratings, such as ``TV-PG'' or ``TV-14,'' when they appear in program listings and on-screen, according to an Associated Press poll this month. Even in homes with children, 51 percent of parents pay little or no attention.
Also Thursday, the FCC approved the ratings system now in use by ABC, CBS, Fox and major cable networks. It took no steps to prevent NBC from keeping the ratings that the rest of the industry previously used. The 1996 law requires the FCC to review the ratings.
FCC Commissioner Susan Ness warned the TV industry that ``the v-chip is really not a license for broadcasters to roll out a host of programs that now include gratuitous violence, where they would not have done it before. ... The v-chip is not a substitute for the conscience of a broadcaster.''
The sets would allow viewers to block all programs with an ``L'' for language rating, for example, but it could not be programmed to block single programs that a parent may find objectionable. However, there is technology in many TV sets and VCRs today that allows parents to block single shows.
When all programs with an ``L'' language rating are blocked, parents can unlock the block to watch a specific show. The sets also will be able to block out programs that carry motion picture ratings, such as ``PG-13,'' ``R'' and ``NC-17.''