Senate Panel Moves to Limit Ads on Kids Programming

Jun 27, 2006  •  Post A Comment

The Senate Commerce Committee today moved to impose new limits on advertising and interactive content in children’s programming, piling amendments into a bill that would ease telephone companies’ entry into the television business.

Senators are considering additions to a so-called video franchising bill that may endanger its chances of reaching the floor for a vote by the full body. Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, Tuesday said he wouldn’t bring the bill to the full Senate unless he thinks he can muster the 60 votes needed to close off debate on the legislation.

At the heart of the bill is a proposal that would let phone companies including Verizon Communications speed their introduction of TV services to compete with cable and satellite providers. That legislation would free the telephone companies from seeking franchises city-by-city as cable operators must. Instead, the telecommunications companies would get national franchises.

Legislators are contemplating a so-called “net neutrality” attachment that would bar Internet service providers from providing faster connections for content providers who pay more. And Senator John McCain, R.-Ariz. plans to introduce a provision that would force “a la carte” service on cable providers, forcing them to let customers select only the channels they want.

The committee put off until tomorrow a debate on net neutrality.

Today, with no debate, the committee added a provision to the legislation that would apply the current limits on the number of commercials in children’s TV–which now apply to broadcast and cable–to any video provider.

The Federal Communications Commission limits advertising on children’s TV to 12 minutes per hour on weekdays and 10.5 minutes per hour on weekends,

The amendment, proposed by Senators Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Mark Pryor, D-Ark., would extend the current limits to any video service aimed at kids on the Web, which is luring younger viewers away from traditional TV.

The committee adopted a ban on “any interactivity designed with the purpose of selling or promoting a product, service or brand” during children’s programming. The amendment was sponsored by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., who also moved to require the FCC complete within six months its two-year-old inquiry into the effects of violent TV on children.

In another potentially controversial amendment, the committee voted to bar the FCC from fining independent network affiliates for airing network programming they hadn’t been given the opportunity to preview for objectionable content.

The amendment from Sen. Ben Nelson, R-Neb., would protect stations from the kind of fines generated by the 2004 Super Bowl broadcast, when Janet Jackson’s breast was bared in a half-time show and the FCC punished stations that aired the game.