Federal regulators are inching closer to compromise on a children's television dispute that threatens to hold up thousands of TV station license renewals.
For a year, the Federal Communications Commission has deadlocked over possible changes to rules designed to improve the amount and quality of children's educational shows.But last week's reversal by FCC Commissioner James Quello - who announced support for the idea of setting a standard amount of educational programs that TV stations should air each week - marked a breakthrough and has restarted negotiations among commissioners. The matter has divided the four-member commission.
"Our staffs are sitting down and starting to bang out the words now," said FCC Chairman Reed Hundt. "I'm hopeful."
In fact, Hundt now predicts the FCC will be able to resolve the matter before November - something he had called unthinkable just a few months ago.
Hundt said he believes the agency will come up with a plan that will include a requirement for at least three hours a week of educational programming. How a station would fulfill that is under negotiation.
As a condition of license renewal, Congress in 1990 said that broadcasters must show they have served children's educational and informational needs. In 1992, some TV stations told the FCC they had met those needs and listed, in documents to the agency, such shows as "The Jetsons" and "Leave It to Beaver" reruns.
That prompted the FCC two years later to consider toughening the standard, which because it was created after many station licenses had already been renewed, has rarely been applied.
Beginning Monday, TV stations in the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia that want to renew their licenses must file applications. It will be the first batch, followed by stations in other groups of states every two months after.
"Right now, we have to move as swiftly as possible to resolve what is expected of broadcasters in terms of children's television," said FCC Commissioner Susan Ness.
The FCC is not bound by a deadline to act on renewal applications. It provides a period for the public and others to comment on applications or challenge license renewals. The earliest time the commission could act on the first batch of licenses would be after Sept. 1.