By Berin Szoka & Adam Thierer
This morning, The Progress & Freedom Foundation (PFF) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed joint comments with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the inquiry “Empowering Parents and Protecting Children in an Evolving Media Landscape.” (MB Docket No. 09-194) As Adam summarized here before, the stated purpose of this FCC Notice of Inquiry is to:
seek information on the extent to which children are using electronic media today, the benefits and risks these technologies bring for children, and the ways in which parents, teachers, and children can help reap the benefits while minimizing the risks [and] to gather data and recommendations from experts, industry, and parents that will enable us to identify actions that all stakeholders can take to enable parents and children to navigate this promising electronic media landscape safely and successfully.
In our joint comments with Lee Tien and Seth David Schoen of EFF, we warned that the FCC should tread carefully when considering taking action on areas described in their inquiry. The agency simply has no authority to act on many of the topics discussed throughout the NOI, and it should not attempt to preempt successful private sector solutions. Congress never authorized the Commission to regulate Internet media, nor 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, we catalog the diverse array of tools and methods available to parents to tailor their exposure to potentially objectionable media and advertising, but advise that only a small percentage of U.S. households potentially need such technologies. We 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.
Finally, we 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 or, on the Internet, flows over platforms like YouTube and Facebook that are 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,” we conclude. “Beyond that narrow Congressionally-sanctioned mission, the Commission should tread cautiously.”
Read the entire filing here or down below in the Scribd reader.