The Evolution of Broadcast Compliance Regulation

We talk a lot about broadcast compliance regulation, but how did it all begin?

Before U.S. citizens watched television or used telephones, broadcast regulation started with the Radio Act of 1912. This act allowed the government to issue broadcasting licenses and assign frequencies to anyone who applied for one. The problem was too many people were broadcasting and the airwaves became overcrowded resulting in signal interference. By 1927, a new act gave authority to the Federal Radio Commission to address interference and licensing issues. It treated broadcast communications as a type of interstate commerce that should serve the public interest and be a form of free speech protected by the First Amendment. After many operational changes and challenges by broadcasters, the act was replaced by the Communications Act of 1934 which created the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Between 1934 and 1959, the FCC used much of its influence to uphold the concepts of public interest and fairness including the mandate of equal airtime for opposing views. In the 1960s, the prevalence of broadcast television in every living room resulted in further programming restrictions to protect the public. In an effort to reduce government interference, the broadcast industry started their own National Association of Broadcasters Television Code that helped regulate programming and advertising content between 1952 and 1983. Fortunately for broadcasters, deregulation began in the late 1970s and 1980s when the FCC embraced a fair marketplace viewpoint letting the station’s community be the judge of its performance.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 replaced the 1934 act to represent new and future digital technologies. This act also mandated that broadcasters provide access to material by people with disabilities such as closed captioning for the deaf or hearing impaired. Encoded data in the transmission of the program displays text for dialogue and descriptions of sound effects and background noise.

The FCC has demonstrated its enforcement of closed captioning rules when it fined three Washington, DC stations thousands of dollars. The network stations failed to provide adequate closed captioning or visual information during on-air thunderstorm and tornado warnings several years ago according to TV Technology.

Another regulation is the CALM (Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation) Act of 2010 that requires commercials to be broadcast at the same audio level as the programs where they are inserted. The Advanced Television Systems Committee’s A/85 (ATSC A/85) industry standard has been developed and used by broadcasters and content providers to establish acceptable technical volume ranges. The FCC monitors viewer complaints about loudness and will issue an inquiry when a station receives multiple complaints. Once a complaint is filed, the station must provide a 24-hour clip to the FCC to prove loudness compliance. If violation is found, the station could be fined $10,000 per incident.

Elsewhere, manufacturers and broadcasters have adopted the European Broadcast Union (EBU) Recommendation 128 (R128) to ensure consumers do not experience sudden changes in program loudness. France, Austria, Italy, and Germany have added the EBU R128 to their national laws, therefore able to enforce it.

Recording and archiving tools can help your organization verify compliance and avoid fines. A comprehensive compliance monitoring toolset like Qligent’s Vision will ensure your broadcast content meets or exceeds all regulatory requirements and other standards. Qligent Vision can be integrated into your existing operations with the added features of real-time alerts and actionable root-cause analysis so you can rapidly respond to any technical issues.