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By Gregory Pratt, Special to The Forum, Published December 23 2012

Loud TV ads law delayed for rural North Dakota cable provider

FARGO – Quietly, a cable provider in Valley City and Jamestown has skirted for at least a year new federal rules hushing excessively loud TV commercials.

Congress passed the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act in 2010, mandating that cable providers and TV stations ensure commercials have the same average volume as the programs they interrupt.

The rules went into effect Dec. 13, but Cable Services Inc., a cable provider that serves Jamestown and Valley City, applied for a waiver available to small companies – those with fewer than 15,000 subscribers.

The Federal Communications Commission is giving smaller systems a pass on the deadline because the equipment that prevents TV commercials from blaring can be costly. The agency is automatically granting the waiver to any company that qualifies.

Congress estimated the cost of implementing the CALM law would be between a few grand and $20,000, but a video provider from Georgia claimed the costs would be nearly $100,000, though that estimate is “based on a misunderstanding of what equipment was necessary to comply with our rules,” the FCC argues in filings.

Roy A. Sheppard, president of Cable Services Inc. in Jamestown, said cost is an issue.

“At this point, nobody’s shopping around a good cost-efficient monitoring system,” Sheppard said.

The FCC called loud TV commercials a “persistent problem of [the] television age” in a news release and says the agency has taken 6,000 complaints about it since 2008, but Sheppard said he isn’t buying it.

“I think it’s a solution looking for a problem,” he said. A 40-year veteran of the cable industry, Sheppard said he hasn’t received many complaints about commercials’ volume.

Scott Geston, the general manager for Cable One in the Fargo-Moorhead area, said he hasn’t heard much from customers about loud commercials, either. The few commercials customers did find to be gratingly loud enough to complain about were usually turned up due a technical glitch, not purposely loud, he said.

Regardless, the cable system – which has the largest footprint in the metro area – did install the special equipment to comply with federal regulations, Geston said.

Sheppard said complaints, even when they are made, can be ambiguous.

“Maybe it was loud,” he said. “Maybe it wasn’t.”

Geston said Cable One will be randomly testing its channels over the next year to make sure the equipment is working, though he still thinks there would have been better ways to address the concerns.

“My thought was always, why don’t they get TVs to do that?” Geston said.

Television viewers upset by a commercial’s volume can go to the FCC’s website, where they may fill out a complaint. They are asked to name the time, station and program.

Forum News Editor Dave Roepke contributed to this report.