The V-Chip Americas Answer to Desensitizing On February 8, 1996, President Clinton1 signed into law the Telecommunications Act of 19962, which will dramatically alter the telecommunications industry over the next several years. One of the most controversial sections of the bill was Section 551, titled “Parental Choice in Television Programming,” which calls for manufacturers to include a “V-chip” in every new TV set 13 inches or larger. The V-chip is a device that will enable viewers to program their televisions to block out content with a common rating. Proponents of the system say that it will enable parents to protect their children from viewing violent and explicit material. Opponents say it violates the First Amendment rights of the broadcasters, and enforces government censorship on the television industry. The provision gives broadcasters, cable operators, and other “video distributors” one year to develop a voluntary rating system for programming that contains “sexual, violent, or other indecent material.” If the industry fails to agree on a rating system within that time, the FCC is to develop a rating system based on an advisory board’s recommendations.16 The Television Decoder Circuitry Act of 19903 required all new televisions sold in the United States to contain a chip to decode closed-captioning4 signals. The basic technology needed to implement the V-chip is the same as that currently used for closed-captioning. Program rating information would be transmitted along with the television signal, and be decoded by a chip in each television. The chip would then compare the rating codes to values preset by the viewer. If the rating codes are higher than the preset values, the television signal would be blocked, and a blank screen would be displayed. Closed-captioning data is transmitted on line 21 of the vertical blanking interval, or VBI5. The VBI consists of 24 lines of a regular picture scan in which the beam is …
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