I can't tell you how wonderful it is to be back home in New Mexico, where you can see the sky, breathe the air, and eat real chili.
I'd like to talk to you today about the new era of broadcasting that we are about to enter. But first a disclaimer. I've been on the job at the FCC now for only about five months. Before that, as you may know, my work here on the New Mexico State Commission dealt mostly with telephone regulation. So while I've learned a lot about broadcasting over the past five months, I don't pretend to know it all. That's why I look forward so much to coming to events like this. I really want to hear your concerns, your problems and -- if you have them -- your solutions. I hope that today is only the beginning of that dialogue.
I am privileged to have arrived at the FCC just as digital television is getting ready for prime time (so to speak). I was in Las Vegas last week at the national convention and was struck by the sheer amount of digital equipment that was on display -- both TV and radio. I was even more struck by the fact that so many broadcasters didn't just seem to be window shopping, but seemed to have their checkbooks open. There's no doubt in my mind that the digital era has arrived.
I know there is still much work to be done. At the FCC, for instance, we have yet to grapple with the complex issue of what must-carry rights mean in a digital world. And beyond the beltway, there is the all-important issue of how to get consumers excited about the digital revolution.
But as much as I'd like to talk about the brave new world of digital and the challenges that lie ahead, I thought it might be more useful to you if I talked about a few things we're doing at the FCC that may seem a little more mundane, but that could have a real impact on your everyday life. Simple, common sense things like getting rid of unnecessary rules and cutting down on the amount of paperwork that you have to file. Since most of you have probably just filed your taxes, I thought you might be in the mood for a little paperwork reduction.
Then, I'd like to talk about your impressive commitment to your local communities. You help charities, expose social problems, and provide a forum for citizens to come together. This connection to the local community is your strength and your greatest competitive advantage. But I'd like to focus on just one piece of your efforts -- your commitment to kids -- and specifically on the three hour guideline for educational TV and the limits on advertising during children's shows. Most of you are already doing these things, but I don't think it hurts to remind ourselves of the importance of these rules. Finally, I'd just like to touch on the problem of TV violence and the effect it has on our children.
Let me start with what the FCC is doing for you. Some of these things may seem small, and they won't grab any headlines. But we're not doing them for the publicity. We're doing them for you -- and especially those of you who work for smaller stations -- who actually have to file these forms. And, frankly, we're doing it for us. Like much of the government, we're strapped for resources. We have to find ways to do our job faster, smarter and more efficiently.
One thing we've done in the last few weeks is release a new proposal that generally would move toward more yes/no questions on forms and less information being filed with the Commission. Instead of the Commission checking over the facts behind each application, we'd give you the standards to apply and you'd certify that you're in compliance. These are just proposals at this point. We have just begun the comment period for the public to tell us whether our ideas are good or bad. I'd encourage all of you to participate. You are on the front lines every day. We want and need your input.
Let me give you a few examples of what's on the table. First, we've taken about 16 of our most commonly-filed forms and asked whether we should require that they be filed electronically. That might speed up filing, since the form would be sent electronically and the system would tell you if you haven't filled out the form properly. It might also help you review other stations' filings. But I wonder whether all stations -- especially small stations -- have easy access to the Internet. Is mandatory electronic filing a good idea? Let us know.
Another example -- the technical form you have to file when you change your facilities. Right now it requires you to attach about 16 exhibits when you submit it to the FCC. We went through and proposed to eliminate every piece of information that wasn't essential. Under the proposed rule, instead of 16 attachments, you'd only have to file 2 or 3.
One last proposal that's on the table. As you know, every year most of you have to file an ownership report with the FCC. If nothing changes from year to year you can just file a letter saying there have been no changes. But sometimes a full report must be filed even if there were only small changes in ownership. In those cases, we don't receive much new information and you have to go to the trouble and expense of a whole new filing. We've proposed to change that by only requiring a new ownership report once every four years, rather than once every year (unless there's a sale; then you have to file a new report within 30 days). This would apply to both commercial and non-commercial stations.
One caveat. The more we rely on yes/no questions and station certifications rather than our own up front review, the more important enforcement becomes. If the process is to have integrity, we need to have in place a program of random and not-so-random audits to ensure compliance. As someone once said, "trust but verify." And we need swift and certain consequences for those who violate the rules.
I can't leave the subject of how we're trying to change the way we work without saying a word about our customer service. If you haven't already taken a look at our Internet site, you really should. Here's the address: www.fcc.gov. There's a lot of useful information there. For instance, you can type in the call sign for any radio station in the western hemisphere and pull up all of the technical information on that station. You can also access a wealth of other information like FCC fact sheets, forms, orders and all of our rules. You can even print out a "self-inspection" sheet that will tell you how to check over your station for things like your public file and emergency broadcasting requirements. And if you don't have Internet access, let one of our consumer service representatives -- either in Washington or at our national call center in Gettysburg -- give you a hand. If for some reason you can't get an answer from our web page or from the rest of the FCC, please don't hesitate to call me or my staff.
Now that I've told you what we're doing for you, let me talk a bit about what you can do for the children of New Mexico. The Children's Television Act of 1990 recognized that children are a special audience and required broadcasters to provide educational and informational programming to meet their needs. It also directed the FCC to look at station compliance with the Act as part of the license renewal process. I know that most of you take these obligations seriously and I congratulate you for your commitment. I'll only do a quick refresher to underscore the importance of these rules.
Recently, the FCC adopted a three-hour guideline for educational programming. To qualify, a program must serve the educational and informational needs of children 16 and under. It must be aired between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. It must be a regularly scheduled weekly program. It must be at least 30 minutes long. And it must specify the educational objective and target audience in writing. If the TV station cannot meet the 3-hour guideline, it does not mean that their license will not be renewed. It simply means that their renewal application cannot be processed at the staff level and will be referred to the full Commission, where the station can demonstrate how its efforts meet the obligations set forth in the Act.
The first children's television reports from stations just came in last January. So far, the results are encouraging. I'm especially pleased to report that all of the New Mexico stations appear to be meeting the three hour guideline. And many of the stations are reporting numbers even higher.
Some say it's impossible to produce educational programming that kids will watch. I disagree. You can make good educational shows or you can make bad educational shows. Kids will watch educational TV if it's entertaining and interesting. Look at ABC. Its Saturday morning ratings among children 2-11 have shot up by 35% from last season. Those who predicted that shows with educational content can't compete with cable have been proven wrong.
And we encourage you to develop your own local product. In Washington, we have a locally-produced show called "It's Academic" -- basically a student quiz bowl show -- that regularly beats its competition in the ratings.
In addition to educational content, Congress also directed the FCC to stop the over-commercialization of children's programming by setting limits on the number of commercials that can be aired. Those limits are 10 1/2 minutes per hour on weekends and 12 minutes per hour on weekdays. Recently, we've found that about 26% of licensees aren't in compliance with these rules. I realize that many of these violations are inadvertant, but we can and must do better. Here are a few tips:
-- make sure your employees understand the rules; many problems have arisen from a failure of senior management to clearly convey what the rules require.
-- check your computer logs regularly to make sure your programs are working; our highest fine to date was caused by a computer foul-up that led to 587 overages.
-- make sure you have a process in place to screen for program length commercials; that means, for example, no GI Joe commercials within or adjacent to the GI Joe show.
This subject is especially timely because the renewal date for New Mexico TV licenses is October 1 of this year. If you're not in compliance with these commercial limits, you'll have to say so in your filing on June 1. I urge you to be candid. There is going to be a program of random audits. It's very important that any certification of full compliance with the commercial limits be absolutely accurate and that you carefully list any instances of commercial overages.
Finally, I couldn't talk about children and television without mentioning the problem of TV violence. Just yesterday, the final report of a three-year study announced that much violence on TV is still glamorized and sanitized. Nearly three-quarters of violent scenes contain no remorse, criticism, or penalty for violence, and nearly 40% of violent incidents over the study period were initiated by "good" characters who are likely to be seen as attractive role models. And violent shows have actually become more frequent in prime time, rising by 14% on the broadcast networks (from 53% to 67%) since 1994.
What can we do about this level of violence and the effect it's having on our children? One thing we've recently done at the FCC is to implement the V-Chip statute. By next year, parents should be able to buy sets containing this important tool to help them protect their children from programming that they deem objectionable. Even sooner, within the next few months, parents should be able to buy a V-Chip in a stand alone set-top box for about $60. You can help ensure that the V-Chip is a success. Ask your local papers to carry the Industry's voluntary ratings in their TV listings. Educate parents on what the ratings mean and how they can use the ratings to make programming choices for their children.
One more plea before I close. I need to hear from you about what concerns you. I need to hear which of our rules are working and which rules aren't working. And I need to hear from you more than once a year. So please let me or my staff hear from you. And if you are ever in Washington, I hope you'll stop by and see me personally -- with or without the chili.