Sample Scholarship Essays

The V-chip

The V-Chip
What is a V-chip? This term has become a buzz word for any discussion evolving
telecommunications regulation and television ratings, but not too many reports
define the new technology in its fullest form. A basic definition of the V-chip;
is a microprocessor that can decipher information sent in the vertical blanking
of the NTSC signal, purposefully for the control of violent or controversial
subject matter. Yet, the span of the new chip is much greater than any working
definition can encompass. A discussion of the V-chip must include a
consideration of the technical and ethical issues, in addition to examining the
constitutionally of any law that might concern standards set by the US
government. Yet in the space provided for this essay, the focus will be the
technical aspects and costs of the new chip. It is impossible to generally
assume that the V-chip will solve the violence problem of broadcast television
or that adding this little device to every set will be a first amendment
infringement. We can, however, find clues through examining the cold facts of
broadcast television and the impact of a mandatory regulation on that free
broadcast. “Utilizing the EIA’s Recommended Practice for Line 21 Data
Service(EIA-608) specification, these chips decode EDS (Extended Data
Services)program ratings, compare these ratings to viewer standards, and can be
programmed to take a variety of actions, including complete blanking of
programs.” Is one definition of the V-chip from Al Marquis of Zilog Technology.

The FCC or Capitol Hill has not set any standards for V-chip technology; this
has allowed many different companies to construct chips that are similar yet not
exact or possibly not compatible. Each chip has advantages and disadvantages for
the rating’s system, soon to be developed. For example, some units use onscreen
programming such as VCR’s and the Zilog product do, while others are considering
set top options. Also, different companies are using different methods of
parental control over the chip.

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Another problem that these new devices may incur when included in every
television is a space. The NTSC signal includes extra information space known as
the subcarrier and Vertical blanking interval. As explained in the quotation
from Mr. Marquis, the V-chips will use a certain section of this space to send
simple rating numbers and points that will be compared to the personality
settings in the chip. Many new technologies are being developed for smart-TV or
data broadcast on this part of the NTSC signal. Basically the V-chip will
severely limit the bandwidth for high performance transmission of data on the
NTSC signal. There is also to be cost to this new technology, which will be
passed to consumers. Estimates are that each chip will cost six dollars
wholesale and must be designed into the television’s logic. The V-chip could
easily push the price of televisions up by twenty five or more dollars during
the first years of production. The much simpler solution of set top boxes allows
control for those who need it and allow those consumers who don’t to save money
and use new data technology. Another cost will most definitely be levied to
television advertisers for the upgrade of the transmitting equipment. Weather
the V-chip encoding signal is added upstream of the transmitter or directly into
uplink units and other equipment intended for broadcast; this cost will have to
compensated for in advertising sales and prices. The V-chip regulation may also
require another staff employee at most stations to effectively rate locally
aired programs and events. All three of these questions have been addressed in
minute detail. Most debate has focused upon the new rating system and its
implementation. Though equally important, this doesn’t deal with the ground
floor concerns for the television producing and broadcasting industries. Now as
members of the industry we must hold our breath until either the fed knocks the
wind from free broadcast with mandatory ratings’ devices, or allows the natural
regulation to continue.

The V Chip

The V Chip 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.

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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 turned off to return to the top of the screen before painting the next frame. These 24 lines represent dead air time, in which no image information is sent.5 Each line of the VBI is capable of transmitting 256 bits (32 bytes) of data. Since the VBI appears once per frame, or 30 times per second, this means that each line of the VBI is capable of sustaining a bit rate of 7680 bits per second.5 The tentative plan for implementing the V-chip is to add the program rating information to line 21 of the VBI, along with the closed-captioning information.

The difficulty is that line 21 is also being used for newer extended data services (XDS) that will be capable of providing such things as scheduling information and station call letters to the viewers. Fitting all three of these data signals into the 7.68 kbps of line 21 is one of the primary difficulties in designing the V-chip implementation.12 The magnitude of the problem will be determined by the complexity of the rating system chosen by the broadcasters. If a relatively simple rating scheme is used, small modifications could be made to the existing closed-captioning decoders to receive the rating data and block the programs. This would require no change in the architecture of the televisions, and would be almost free of cost to install. Electronic Industries Association6 (EIA) engineer, Tom Mock, says that the existing closed-captioning chips have enough memory to support a system of up to three content categories, such as sex, violence, and mature content, with four levels of blocking each.12 If the broadcasting industry selects a system of more complexity, it would be far more difficult to implement.

Each television would require additional circuitry to handle the decoding of the ratings. This would mean that television designers would have to alter the internal layouts of the television components, adding up to $40 to the cost of the television, depending on the manufacturer and model of television.12 Similarly, line 21 of the VBI may not have enough available bandwidth to transmit the desired programming codes if they are too complex. This would cause a more drastic departure from the closed-captioning technology. Another line of the VBI would have to be used which could complicate things tremendously. The demand for use of the VBI is growing rapidly since it is a means of rapidly transmitting data to a large number of people.

In British Columbia, the VBI is being used to transmit such things as weather forecasts and warnings, weather charts, and even satellite pictures.5 Since VBI space can be leased to companies wishing to provide information to the public, the television industry would be extremely reluctant to use additional space for non-profitable information such as rating codes. Not only would the additional VBI space be difficult to obtain, the televisions would need two full sets of decoder circuitry, one to decode the closed-captioning information on line 21, and separate circuitry to decode the rating information on a different line. It would cost more to manufacture the two sets of chips than simply one redesigned chip, and it would cost the television manufacturers more to redesign the architecture of their televisions to accommodate the additional circuitry. Therefore the additional costs per television may be well above the estimated $40. Most of the financial burden, however, would lie on the broadcasters. Not only would the televisions need new circuitry to receive the rating signals, the broadcasters would need to either upgrade their closed-captioning encoders or install new encoding equipment to generate the V-chip signals and insert them in the VBI.

Phil McLaughlin, director of business development for EEG Enterprises, a manufacturer of VBI insertion equipment, says that the additional encoding equipment would probably cost the broadcasters around $5,000, plus another $1,000-$2,000 needed for a data-management computer.12 The most significant cost, however, would be in developing the infrastructure for transmitting the signals, both in personnel and in software. Most closed-captioned programs are encoded by the program producer, not the broadcaster, and the station simply passes the information through. Even if the rating information is delegated to the producers of the programs, to be added along with the closed-captioning signals, the broadcasters would be held accountable if a producer failed to rate their show. Therefore, the broadcast station would have to purchase encoders for live insertion of the rating information. This would entail considerable cost for the stations, for the new hardware and software for coding, as well as personnel to operate it.12 Even though the V-chip legislation has already been signed into law by the President, it remains at the heart of a heated political battle.

The strongest objection raised to the V-chip by its opponents is that it violates the First Amendment Rights of the broadcasters. They claim that the government is imposing a system of censorship that will lead to blander and less dramatic television.14 Representative Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who spearheaded the drive for the V-chip, argues that there is nothing in the legislation that limits the content of programs. He, and other supporters of the V-chip, say that the broadcasters will still be able to air any programming they wish. They will just have to accompany the programming with a rating that will help identify to parents the content of the programs. He emphasizes that it will be left to the parents to decide which programs they wish to view, not the government.11 Broadcast industry officials don’t believe Markey’s argument, however. NBC Executive Vice President and General Counsel Rick Cotton says that NBC supports blocking technology for those viewers who want to block programming. The problem with the V-chip, he claims, is that it puts the government in control of the rating system.14 Floyd Abr …


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