WASHINGTON—Following the request for comments on the FCC’s proposed rule changes to children’s programming, a group of nine Democratic U.S. Senators—Tammy Baldwin (WI), Richard Blumenthal (CT), Sherrod Brown (OH), Tammy Duckworth (IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Amy Klobuchar (MN), Ed Markey (MA), Elizabeth Warren (MA) and Ron Wyden (OR)—has filed a letter with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in opposition to the new rules.
According to FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, the proposed changes to the Children’s Television Act of 1990 are “modest” and are designed to provide schedule flexibility, more diverse and innovative programming, and relieve pressure on broadcasters. However, the senators argue that these new rules would “significantly decrease children’s access to this [educational programming] critical resource.”
Chief among the senators’ concerns are that “the Commission’s current proposed changes would limit the reach of educational content available to children and have a particular damaging effect on youth in low-income and minority communities,” the letter reads. They claim that the new rules would decrease access to valuable educational content through over-the-air services, which 16% of African-American households rely on, 20% of Hispanic households and 30% of Americans making less than $25,000 per year. “We encourage you to continue requiring broadcasters to provide at least three hours per week of regularly scheduled, educational content on primary stations.”
The letter also says that the new rules would allow a third of required educational content to be aired on secondary “multicast” stations. This would limit the number of households that the content could reach, as the senators argue that total viewership of these secondary channels is much lower than broadcasters’ primary stations and aren’t available in “millions” of households.
As for scheduling, only requiring that two-thirds of educational children’s content be regularly scheduled would cause barriers for parents, as they would not know when the programming would be on. As a result, the senators recommend maintaining the current rule that all KidVid programming remain on a regularly scheduled basis.
Other changes that the letter acknowledges could negatively impact children include the extended time frame for when children’s programming can be aired and allowing the required three hours of broadcast per week to be achieved across all of a broadcaster’s stations airing educational programming rather than for each station.
“In exchange for free access to the airwaves, broadcasters, among other public interest obligations, are required to air a mere three hours per week—less than 2% of their total broadcast time—of educational children’s content. This should remain the rule,” the letter concludes.
The vote on the FCC’s KidVid rules is scheduled to take place during the July open meeting on July 10. The NAB previously came out in support of the FCC’s proposed changes.