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ACA Responds To FCC Adoption of CALM Act Regulations

American Cable Association President and CEO Matthew M. Polka commented on the Federal Communications Commission's Dec. 13 vote to implement provisions of the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act or CALM Act, a law designed to equalize volume levels between commercials and regular programming on broadcast, cable, satellite and other multichannel video programming distribution platforms.

"ACA commends the FCC for implementing a law designed to respond to consumers who are offended by sudden, jarring audio spikes as commercials break into regular TV programming.  As the FCC's rules take effect, families viewing TV in their living rooms won't need to lurch for the mute button anymore to deal with annoyingly loud commercials, many of which have been the responsibility of programmers, not cable operators," Polka said.

The CALM Act, sponsored by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), became law with President Obama's signature on Dec. 15, 2010.  The new law incorporated and made mandatory, subject to waivers, the ATSC A/85 standard, the recommended practice for establishing and maintaining audio loudness for digital television approved by the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC).

Under the FCC's regulations adopted unanimously, the vast majority of small cable operators, defined as companies with 400,000 subscribers or fewer, will not need to annually monitor the perceived volume levels of cable programming networks to ensure their commercials were inserted in compliance with the ATSC A/85.. 

ACA members with more than 400,000 subscribers will have to conduct these spot checks on 50% of the channels, chosen randomly, that have not provided these operators a certificate that they follow the ATSC A/85 standard.

"ACA sincerely appreciates the FCC's time and attention throughout the rulemaking process in seeking to understand and mitigate the potential burdens that this legislation could impose on smaller operators," Polka said.

Very large MVPDs, meanwhile, are required to perform annual spot checks on 100% of their non-certified channels.  If MVPDs of any size do not detect any problems with non-certified channel for two years in a row, the operator would not need to conduct additional spot checks on that channel going forward.

In the event of consumers complaints about commercials inserted upstream by cable programmers that amount to a pattern or trend, and such complaints affected customers of multiple operators, the FCC said that it intended to direct letters of inquiry to the larger operators, sparing the smaller ones with dealing with LOIs.

As a result, smaller operators will likely avoid LOIs about commercials inserted upstream a cable programmer, unless the complaints are truly specific to the operator.  In these cases, the cable operator will have to demonstrate to the Commission that it was passing through the commercials without alteration.

"Independent cable operators agree that the TV industry needs to be respectful of the fact that the CALM Act is a reflection of consumer sentiment on an issue that doesn't get more personal than TV. ACA applauds U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) for her efforts," Polka said.

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