Thursday, April 27, 2006 - The Progress & Freedom Foundation Blog

Cellular Content Controls

There's an interesting story on B1 of today's Wall Street Journal about cellular companies establishing very restrictive standards for wireless media content transmitted over their devices. I have yet to see the final guidelines that the Journal gained access to, but it sounds like Verizon, Cingular, Sprint and others will be imposing some very stringent controls in an attempt to curtail nudity and sexual content, foul language, violent programming and even hate speech.

As I pointed out in my recent PFF study, "Parents Have Many Tools to Combat Objectionable Media Content," this is just another example of the sort of steps that media providers and distributors are taking to help parents and consumers restrict or curtail objectionable content before they call upon government to do that job for them. Of course, one could argue that the only reason they are taking such steps is to avoid potential government scrutiny in the future. (Then again, the FCC does not currently possess the legal authority to regulate "indecent" or "violent" content on cellular / mobile networks or devices.) Regardless, I think it's great that companies are establishing some voluntary guidelines and controls.

One thing that is still a bit unclear to me, however, is exactly how cellular carriers plan to police all the media content that will increasingly be flowing over their networks. The Journal article says that carriers are currently relying mostly on ad-hoc phone calls or e-mails to specific media providers to remove or edit certain types of potentially objectionable content. But even if the cellular carriers allocate more resources to such ad-hoc enforcement efforts, it certainly won't be fool-proof. It will be easier to police content provided by large players (such as MTV or Playboy, for example), but what about all the organic, bottom-up, user-generated content?

This is the problem News Corp. has been facing in recent months with Millions of average people (mostly teenagers) are posting countless bits of personal material on their sites. Some of it can get a little raunchy or offensive. That's created a significant challenge for MySpace, but they are trying to do their best to keep up with it.

Cellular carriers will face that same challenge in coming years as more and more media goes mobile. It will be interesting to see how they deal with it and what the response of the legislative / regulatory community will be to these self-regulatory efforts. Stay tuned; another major First Amendment battle could be developing over that tiny TV screen in your pocket !

posted by Adam Thierer @ 2:41 PM | Free Speech , Wireless