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New rule hushes loud ads on TV

WASHINGTON – No need to dive for the mute button anymore. A new rule aimed at lowering the volume on loud TV commercials took effect Thursday.

“This is clearly not the biggest thing happening in Washington. But it is one less nuisance” for Americans, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat and sponsor of the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act, said at a Capitol Hill gathering to celebrate the new law.

Under the rule, commercials should have the same average volume as the programs they accompany.

The Federal Communications Commission, which has called loud TV commercials “one of the most persistent problems of the television age,” will rely on consumer complaints to monitor industry compliance.

President Barack Obama signed the bill nearly two years ago, but it took time for the FCC to draw up a rule and industry groups to work through the technical issues and come into compliance.

Gordon Smith, a former Oregon senator who heads the National Association of Broadcasters, said the issue was a “problem of great technical complexity,” and not just like turning down a knob.

But as with all things Congress, not everybody thought legislation was necessary. “While I, too, would like to have someone turn down the TV when it gets loud, I’ve already given that job to my thumb,” Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, said in 2009. “As a result, I only need one member of Congress at work on this vital problem, not 435.”

Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., who received more response to the bill than anything she has sponsored in 20 years in Congress, came up with the idea for the legislation after a loud commercial interrupted a family dinner.

After asking her brother-in-law to do something about the volume, Eshoo recalled that he turned to her and said, “Well, you’re the congresswoman. Why don’t you do something about it?”

“I never dreamed it would strike the chord that it did with the American people,” she said.


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