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Commission adopts NPRM on rules to implement CALM Act

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) May 27 on implementation of the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act.

The CALM Act, enacted into law Dec. 15, 2010, addresses the problem of variations between program and commercial loudness and loudness from channel to channel, which have been exacerbated by the DTV transition and the expanded aural dynamic range, which can make variations in perceived loudness more noticeable.

The NPRM addresses the scope of the new law and identifies the entities responsible under the law to prevent transmission of loud commercial. Additionally, it addresses how stations and multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) can show they comply with ATSC A/85 RP, which is specified in the law as the standard to be employed.

It also proposes a consumer-driven complaint process to enforce the regulations, and how to implement waivers and challenges that stations and MVPDs face in fulfilling their new obligation.

Regarding the scope of the law, the NPRM points out that the “language (of the law) not only requires us to incorporate by reference and make mandatory the ATSC A/85 RP, but it expressly limits our authority in that regard.” As a result, the agency has tentatively concluded it is not allowed to “modify the technical standard or adopt other actions” inconsistent with the limitations of the new law; thus, it proposes incorporating the ATSC A/85 RP into its rules.

The NPRM seeks comment on a recently adopted successor document to A/86 RP, which adds Appendix J — “Requirements for Establishing and Maintaining Audio Loudness of Commercial Advertising in Digital Television.” It addresses action necessary to perform effective loudness control for DTV commercials.

In the NPRM, the commission says it has tentatively concluded that stations and MVPDs are responsible under the new law for the loudness of all commercials transmitted by them, “including commercials inserted by stations/MVPDs, as well as those commercials that are in the programming that stations/MVPDs receive from content providers and transmit (or retransmit) to viewers.” While the agency says it believes it is required to make this interpretation by the language of the CALM Act, it is inviting comments on its analysis.

One area where the language of the statute is more open to interpretation relates to what actually defines “commercial advertisements.” The commission wants comments on how to define the term for the purposes of the CALM Act. The NPRM asks whether, for example, political ads by legally qualified candidates are commercial advertisement as well as if TV promos and MVPD promos should be considered as “commercial advertisements.”

Turning to compliance, the commission proposes in the NPRM to require the FCC to accept a showing by a station or MVPD that it “installs, utilizes, and maintains in a commercially reasonable manner the equipment and associated software” necessary to comply with the ATSC A/85 RP as sufficient for being in compliance. However, the agency proposes not restricting stations and MVPDs to such showings as the only way to demonstrate compliance.

Comments are due 30 days after publication of the NPRM in the Federal Register. Reply comments are due 45 days after publication in the Federal Register.

Phil Kurz is a contributing editor to TV Tech. He has written about TV and video technology for more than 30 years and served as editor of three leading industry magazines. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.