Senate panel backs development of super V-chip

Senate committee approves legislation asking the FCC to oversee the development of a super V-chip that could screen content on everything from cell phones to the Internet.
Written by ZDNET Editors, Contributor
WASHINGTON--The Senate Commerce Committee approved legislation Thursday asking the Federal Communications Commission to oversee the development of a super V-chip that could screen content on everything from cell phones to the Internet.

Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., the sponsor of the Child Safe Viewing Act, claims that the new law is necessary because content is no longer confined to the TV or radio, and he contends the same technology that allows content to increasingly migrate from device to device also can be used to empower parents.

"It's an uphill battle for parents trying to protect their kids from viewing inappropriate programming," Pryor said. "I believe there is a whole new generation of technology that can provide an additional layer of help for these parents."

The bill requires the FCC to review, within one year of enactment, technology that can help parents manage the vast volume of video and other content on television or the Internet.

Under the 1996 Telecommunications Act, TV makers are required to embed the V-chip within televisions to allow parents to block content according to a rating system.

A section of the 1996 law also ordered the FCC to review and implement advanced filtering technology as it is developed, and Pryor said the commission has been dragging its feet on the issue.

"My bill simply lights a fire under the FCC to take a fresh look at new options in the marketplace," he said.

Pryor's legislation is the second anticontent bill approved by the commerce committee. Last month, it approved legislation overturning a federal court decision that found without merit FCC rules punishing broadcasters for an accidentally cussing on the air.

A third bill that aims to regulate violent content much the same as indecent speech is expected to be introduced soon. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., has plans to introduce the antiviolence bill, but it was unclear when.

Under federal court rulings and commission rules, material is indecent if it "in context, depicts or describes sexual or excretory activities or organs in a patently offensive manner as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium." Indecent speech can be aired safely from 10 p.m.-6 a.m.

The government's indecency rules do not apply to cable or the Internet. A series of laws attempting to regulate speech on the Internet have failed.

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