Say NOI should precede any action on rules

A half-dozen Senate Democrats are asking the FCC to scrap a vote on a proposal to loosen children's TV rules, essentially abandoning the proposal until it has collected more input and stakeholder feedback on how and whether the rules should be changed.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is planning a July 12 vote on a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), which would not be a final vote, but would signal what the FCC wants to do, and what it still has questions about, with a final vote not coming until stakeholders had a chance to weigh in and the item adjusted accordingly, if need be.

But the senators, led by Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who was instrumental in passing the Children's Television Act as a member of the House, said that the FCC should revise the proposal and make it a Notice of Inquiry rather than an NPRM. The latter signals a vote is likely coming on a final order, while an NOI is essentially an investigation that might or might not lead to action.

Related: FCC Proposes Major Kids TV Rule Changes

The letter to the commissioners from Markey et al. said the FCC should abandon the current rulemaking in favor of the NOI, echoing calls from various kids TV groups that share his concern.

"The Commission’s proposed rulemaking includes insufficient information to justify its proposed rule changes," they wrote. "For example, the NPRM proposes eliminating the requirement that broadcasters air their Core Programming on main program streams, paving the way for broadcasters to move their children’s content to multicast streams, without providing data to demonstrate that doing so will not significantly diminish access to and viewership of their children’s content. Similarly, the NPRM includes a proposal to modify the rule requiring broadcasters to air at least three hours of core children’s educational and informational programming per week, without offering any evidence that airing less educational content will somehow not hurt children."

They say the NPRM is premature, could undermine the effectiveness of the rules, and that much more fact-finding is needed before the FCC takes any action.

Related: Democratic Senators Say Kids TV Mandates Must Stay

The FCC is tentatively proposing to eliminate a number of children's TV rules, and is seeking comment on changing others, provisionally concluding that educational and informational programming does not have to be at least a half-hour in length and regularly scheduled. 

The agency also proposes cutting the frequency of kids TV reports to the FCC from quarterly to annually. That is according to a draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) released by the FCC June 21 for a July 12 vote.The NPRM seeks comment on whether there still needs to be a three-hour-per-week mandate and whether the hours in the day when programming qualifies as filling the requirement should be expanded. 

Joining Markey on the letter were Sens. Bill Nelson (Fla.), Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), and Jack Reed (R.I.).

In a speech this week, FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly, who was tasked with heading up the Kid Vid review, said the NPRM was "the start of the process, not the end."

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