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FCC (finally) cracks down on BLARING! TV! ADS!

After four and a half years of Rep and Dem squabbles

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The US Federal Communications Commission has issued rules requiring television broadcasters and cable and satellite providers to maintain constant volume levels for programs and commercials.

The rules were issued persuant to the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act, better known as the CALM Act, which has been meandering its way through the US legislative process since 2008.

"I never characterized this as saving the Union," said Democratic Representative Anna Eshoo of California, who introduced the House version of the bill, H.R.1084, in December 2009, as quoted by USA Today. "But consumers have been asking for it. We may not have peace in the world, but we may have more peaceful homes."

In a statement issued by her office. Eshoo said, "The law I wrote is simple. The volume of television commercials cannot be louder than regular programming. Households across the country will soon get the relief they deserve from the annoyance of blaringly loud television commercials."

The law may be simple, but its route from its initial introduction to today's FCC rule-making provides a case study of the legislative entanglement hobbling decision-making in today's Congress – even when, as Eshoo notes, "According to a 2009 Harris poll, almost 90 percent of TV viewers are bothered by high commercial volumes, prompting 41 percent of viewers to turn down the volume, 22 percent to mute the TV, and 17 percent to change the channel altogether."

In June 2008, Senator Roger Wicker, a Republican from Mississippi, introduced the first version of the CALM Act, S. 3156, calling his bill "... a common sense approach to a problem that plagues individuals across the nation and will create a more enjoyable television experience," and saying, "I look forward to working with my colleagues to make this legislation a reality."

Wicker, however, withdrew his support in 2010, stating that "... the television industry has been moving in the right direction on commercial advertising audio volume. Therefore, I do not believe government intervention is necessary at this time."

Wicker's withdrawal of support was unsurprising, seeing as how Republican Congress members have been loathe to introduce industry-limiting legislation, especially after Democrat Barack Obama acended to the presidency.

A Democratic senator, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, then reintroduced the CALM Act as S. 2847, which was passed in September 2010.

Eshoo's bill had a more straightforward path, being passed in the House by voice vote in December 2009.

Before that vote, however, Republican Congressman Joe Barton of Texas rose to speak in opposition, providing an example of his party's antipathy to government regulation. "While I, too, would like to have someone turn down the TV when it gets loud," he said. "I've already given that job to my thumb. As a result, I only need one Member of Congress at work on this vital problem, not 435" – that being the number of worthies in the US House of Representatives.

"I appreciate Ms. Eshoo's efforts to protect America's ears from loud commercials and our thumbs from arthritis brought on by overuse," Barton said, "but writing a law to do so seems a stretch."

The combined House and Senate bill was subsequently signed by Obama on December 15 of last year as Public Law 111-311; its wording included language that required the FCC to issue its rules within one year after its signing.

The FCC rules are scheduled to go into effect one year from today – four and one half years from Wicker's introduction of S. 3156.

The exact methods for determining television commercial loudness levels can be found in excruciating detail in the Advanced Television Sytems Committee's 75-page "ATSC Recommended Practice: Techniques for Establishing and Maintaining Audio Loudness for Digital Television", more prosaically known as Document A/85:2011 (PDF). ®

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