Feds Make Proposals on Digital TV


Thursday, September 14th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal regulators proposed Thursday broadening broadcasters' requirements to air children's educational programming and protect young viewers from advertising during the move to digital television.

The Federal Communications Commission also resolved disputes involving copyright protection and labeling that have stalled the rollout of digital television.

``The American people cannot wait any longer for state-of-the-art'' digital television, said FCC Chairman William Kennard, adding that television makers and the cable industry had been given ample time to work out the issues.

Digital television allows broadcasters to squeeze more video and data into existing channel space. Broadcasters could use it to provide sharper pictures or offer additional channels for sports or movies, or stock quotes and other data transmitted to home computers.

The FCC on Thursday laid out how digital televisions should be labeled so consumers will know if the sets can connect to cable systems and have interactive capabilities.

The commission also affirmed the need for copy protection technology installed in digital sets and set-top boxes. That is to ensure that programs in the digital format delivered over cable to televisions cannot easily be reproduced and distributed.

``Program creators expect their digital content over cable systems to be protected, or they won't make it available,'' said Robert Sachs, head of the National Cable Television Association. ``Consumers will be the beneficiaries.''

The move to digital television also is prompting the FCC to re-examine the requirements of broadcasters to serve the needs of children. The networks now must provide three hours of educational programming each week, and have limits on the advertising they can show during programs targeted at viewers younger than 13.

The commission is looking at whether the number of hours should be increased, in light of the fact that broadcasters could offer additional channels with a digital signal. Because broadcasters could use their digital frequencies to provide data over the airwaves, some groups have proposed that schools be given some free data services.

``Here's an opportunity for the media industry to really do something to benefit kids,'' said Kathryn Montgomery, president of the Center for Media Education.

Following on the heels of a report indicting the entertainment industry for marketing adult material to youths, the FCC also said it would consider ways to ensure that promotions aired during children's shows are appropriate.

FCC Commissioner Gloria Tristani cited the e-mails and letters routinely received by the agency from parents concerned about the content of commercials aired during shows with young audiences.

The commission is considering whether promotions could carry an electronically coded rating — as some broadcast television shows do now — so that parents could block out objectionable ads with a V-chip.

Broadcasters now can only air 10 minutes to 12 minutes of commercials during shows targeted at children, and must follow other rules to ensure that the separation between ads and programs is clear to young viewers. But digital television opens the door for interactive advertising, such as adding Web sites to shows.

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On the Net: FCC site: http://www.fcc.gov