Don't Watch That!


The national nanny may soon be baby-sitting your personal computer. In the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Congress mandated V-chips–designed to block television programming based on a system of ratings–for any "apparatus designed to receive television signals…and that have a picture screen 13 inches or greater in size."

While this language clearly requires V-chips in PCs that double as televisions, the Federal Communications Commission is stretching the statute to cover computer monitors that weren't intended to carry Seinfeld reruns. An FCC regulation proposed in late September states: "We believe that the program blocking requirements we are proposing should apply to any television receiver meeting the screen size requirements, regardless of whether it is distributed only through cable television systems, MDS, DBS, or by some other distribution system." The "other distribution system," of course, is the Internet, which is already being used by entrepreneurs to transmit Webcasts.

A mandatory blocking scheme based on ratings would require some type of central authority to draw up those ratings; thus far, the freewheeling Internet community has resisted such top-down management.

The public comment period for the proposed rules ended in early December and the FCC intends to pass final regulations soon. Under its self-imposed timetable, the agency will require half the "eligible" monitors shipped by July 1, 1998, to include the chip; one year later, every set will be covered.