FCC chief establishes V-chip task force

Thursday, May 13, 1999

The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission on May 11 announced the formation of a task force designed to monitor efforts by television manufacturers and retailers to place program-blocking technology in most new sets.

William Kennard, who attended the White House Strategy Session on Children, Violence and Responsibility on May 10, says the technology known as the “V-chip” will help parents shield their children from televised images they deem inappropriate.

“Young people use communications and entertainment technologies with ease, while their parents approach them with bewilderment and frustration,” Kennard said. “In a very real sense, the old teen-age complaint is true: Parents just don't understand. They don't understand the technology, and kids aren't talking to their parents about what they're watching and downloading.”

According to commission rules adopted in March 1998, television manufacturers must include V-chips on at least half their models with 13-inch or larger screens by July 1, 1999, and on all of their products by Jan. 1, 2000. The rules also apply to personal computers with television tuners and 13-inch or larger screens.

The television industry, with the help of parent advocacy groups and the Motion Picture Association of America, crafted a rating system in 1997 in response to the 1996 federal Telecommunications Act. The law required the industry to find ways to enable parents to block objectionable programming from their homes.

The V-chip is designed to read the six age-group designations, which range from Y (suitable for children of all ages) to MA (unsuitable for children under 17). Parents may also block programming designated with content codes: V for violence, S for sexual content, L for foul language and D for sexually suggestive dialogue.

“Just as with a click of a seat belt we made it safe to travel down the interstate highway, we need to make it so that, with the click of a mouse or a remote control, it's safe to travel down the information superhighway,” Kennard said.

The task force, chaired by FCC Commissioner Gloria Tristani, will launch a campaign to promote public awareness of the V-chip and to teach parents how to use it. As V-chip-equipped sets become more available, the task force will encourage manufacturers to label them as such.

Kennard says the task force will evaluate the effectiveness of the V-chip to make sure it is able to block the programs it's designed to block.