Calling the Young
Today's students use cellphones, have TVs in their bedrooms, and own all sorts of electronic toys and other devices that are regulated by the Federal Communications Commission. So it is logical that the telecommunications regulator would want them to know more about its workings.
This month, the Washington agency plunged into that educational mission with a colorful addition to its Web site, www.fcc.gov, called "The FCC Kidszone."
The zone attempts to update young people on the ongoing changes in the way society uses the electromagnetic spectrum-and rules on everything from telemarketing calls to "wireless local number portability," which allows customers to keep their cellphone number when they change carriers.
A glossary explains to children-and likely to some grateful adults-the definition of "amplitude modulation" (the technology behind AM radio) and laws such as the Satellite Home Viewer Improvement Act of 1999, among about 60 topics.
Historical snippets underscore roles the airwaves have played in important national events, such as the nation's first coast-to-coast live television broadcast in 1951, which President Truman used to address the Japanese peace treaty conference in San Francisco.
On every page, the visitor is met by Broadband, a fat orange cat, who now and again blurts out, "Gee, I didn't know that," or "So that's what the fcc is all about."
The site has subzones for students of different grade levels, featuring commonly asked questions, as well as parents' and teachers' guides.
Yet even while it addresses children, the fcc is unable to ignore the fact that it is an arbiter in high-stakes disputes, involving multibillion-dollar corporations.
An online poll, for example, asks visitors, "Do you think there is too much violence on TV?"
But right below the poll is the disclaimer: "This feature is for educational purposes only. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the fcc. The results of the survey will not be used in any fcc proceeding without notice."
Such caveats give the zone the aura of a slightly out-of-touch grandparent.
Vol. 24, Issue 04, Page 8Published in Print: September 22, 2004, as Calling the Young