PFF and EFF File Joint Comments with FCC
WASHINGTON D.C. - The Federal Communications Commission should tread carefully when considering taking action on areas described in their inquiry on media and child protection, state The Progress & Freedom Foundation's Adam Thierer and Berin Szoka in joint comments filed today with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The agency simply has no authority to act on many of the topics described in the inquiry "Empowering Parents and Protecting Children in an Evolving Media Landscape" and should not attempt to preempt successful private sector solutions.
In the comments, the authors address jurisdictional and First Amendment concerns associated with potential FCC regulation in the many areas outlined in the sprawling inquiry. Congress never authorized the Commission to regulate Internet media, or asked the agency to consider doing so. In fact, Congress plainly declared that the Internet should be kept "unfettered by Federal or State regulation." Any regulation of online media would also fail to pass First Amendment scrutiny, as there are less restrictive means than government regulation to control minors' access to objectionable content. In addition, any mandate on content creators or access providers to rate or tag content would constitute compelled speech.
In response to the agency's request for comments on the awareness and adoption of parental control technologies, the authors catalog the diverse array of tools and methods available but advise that only a small percentage of U.S. households potentially need such technologies. They also warn against a government-run content ratings system because of the overwhelming volume of content available online and because content outside the U.S. would be outside the government's jurisdiction but just as easily accessible.
The authors also respond to the agency's questions concerning children and advertising, explaining that, in addition to jurisdictional and First Amendment concerns, increased regulation of advertisements could have a negative impact on the production of children's programming and content, since the majority of this content is supported by advertising.
In light of such concerns, "the Commission should continue what it began with its Child Safe Viewing Act Notice by expanding information and education about existing tools and ratings systems and encouraging parents to use these tools and methods and to talk to their children about appropriate media use," the authors conclude. "Beyond that narrow Congressionally-sanctioned mission, the Commission should tread cautiously."
The comments are available on the PFF website.
The Progress & Freedom Foundation is a market-oriented think tank that studies the digital revolution and its implications for public policy. It is a 501(c)(3) research & educational organization.