Ban on loud TV commercials takes effect today

FCC’s yearlong implementation period for broadcasters expires

Representing what may be the most popular act of Congress since the "Do Not Call" list, a law prohibiting broadcasters from cranking up the volume on TV commercials takes effect today.

Loud commercials have been the No. 1 complaint logged by the FCC over the past decade.


Legislation mandating that broadcasters deliver advertisements at a volume no higher than the programming in which it airs sailed through Congress in 2010 - unanimously in the Senate - and was signed into law by President Obama. It was called the CALM Act, or Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act. The FCC then drafted implementation rules and gave broadcasters until today to comply.

Here's what I consider an excellent summation of general public sentiment from blogger Kevin Drum writing for Mother Jones:

As I've mentioned before, I think about this new rule the same way I think about the Do Not Call list. I don't care if it's "liberal" or "conservative." I don't care if it's hard to implement. I don't care whether or not you can justify it from first principles. I just don't care. All I want is for this to stop, and I'm perfectly willing to bring down the entire weight of the federal government to make it happen. As far as I'm concerned, this might very well be the only thing Congress did in the entire year of 2011 to improve our lives.

The FCC rules do allow for broadcasters to apply for an additional one-year exception if they can show that implementation would create a financial hardship.

Violators will supposedly face fines.

The FCC has an FAQ page about the new law that includes this passage about how to file a complaint:

When sending your complaint to the Commission, please include the time, channel, a description of the commercial, whether you are watching pay TV or broadcast television using an antenna, and your contact information.  You can file your complaint with the FCC's Consumer Call Center at 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322) voice or 1-888-TELL-FCC (1-888-835-5322).  Your complaint can also be faxed to 1-866-418-0232, or mailed to: Federal Communications Commission, Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau, Consumer Inquiries & Complaints Division, 445 12th Street, SW, Washington, DC 20554.

While there's no mention of an online option, the FCC's general "File Complaint" page does include an outlet for "loud commercials" if you look under "Broadcast (TV and Radio), Cable, and Satellite Issues."

(A note of caution: Complaining to the FCC about anything may cause you more trouble than it’s worth … at least it did for me a few years ago.)

Finally, I also found this, well, I guess you'd call it advice on that FAQ page:

Q:   What can I do about loud commercials until the new rules take effect?

A:   Manually controlling volume levels with the remote control remains the simplest way to reduce excessive loudness levels.  The "mute" button on your TV remote is also useful to control excessively loud audio.

Hopefully the law will render such "advice" unnecessary.

(Update: All the nitty-gritty details about the FCC rules, including caveats and exceptions, can be found here.)

(Update 2: My note of caution above elicited an email reply from a longtime reader whose complaint to the FCC about AT&T paid off quite handsomely.)

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