Rep. Eshoo: Rule to stop loud TV ads should apply to every provider

A recently enacted law aimed at reducing the volume of TV commercials should apply to all pay-TV providers, according to Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), who wrote the legislation.

Eshoo introduced the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act, which was signed into law in December and limits the volume of advertisements to the same levels as the programs they interrupt.

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She wrote to the Federal Communications Commission, which is in charge of implementing the new rules, on Friday urging the agency to ensure the new standard applies to all cable, satellite and video distributors, not just broadcasters.

"The law's intent is simple — to make the volume of commercials and programming uniform so that spikes in volume do not affect the consumer's ability to control sound," Eshoo said.

"I recognize that implementation takes time, which is why the legislation includes a grace period that is fair to stakeholders and allows programming distributors ample time to install the engineering fix necessary to ensure that sound is modulated."

The American Cable Association, which represents small and medium-size cable providers, has argued the law's penalties shouldn't apply to programming they simply retransmit from broadcasters — only to commercials the firms insert themselves.

The group argues the law's adoption of the A/85 standard from the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) would impose a heavy burden on small cable operators because the standard "is essentially a digital broadcast TV standard with limited applicability to cable operators."

“ACA believes the law requires cable operators to exercise control over the volume level of commercials that they insert on their own or with the assistance of third parties,” said ACA President and CEO Matthew Polka.

"But the law does not impose as broad a mandate regarding commercials embedded in upstream cable and broadcast programming that is merely passed through to subscribers by local operators."

In her letter, Eshoo warns the FCC that ATSC standards required under the law should only be used as technical guidance and that the FCC should remain independent in terms of compliance.

She also notes the law allows for up to two one-year waivers for distributors who demonstrate the new rules would pose a hardship.

"The legislation provides ample opportunity for small broadcast stations and cable operators to comply with the law," Eshoo said. "I will continue to follow the rulemaking for the CALM Act very closely, and I'll be monitoring ATSC activities to ensure that it only issues regulations contemplated by the law."

Polka argued small firms should all receive at least a one-year waiver and an additional extension.

“Because smaller cable systems may face greater challenges in having the financial resources to purchase equipment, ACA is seeking a blanket financial hardship waiver for small cable operators for a one-year period and asking the FCC to consider extending that blanket waiver for an additional year,” Polka said.

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