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Congress passes law to lower volume on TV ads

WASHINGTON - Here's a message TV viewers may not want to mute: The days of getting blasted out of the easy chair by blaring TV commercials may soon be over.

The House yesterday gave final congressional approval to a bill that would prevent advertisers from abruptly raising the volume to catch the attention of viewers wandering off when regular programming is interrupted.

The bill's House sponsor, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), said it was her own "earsplitting experiences" that got her involved, recalling how the ads "blew us out of the house" when she watched television, already set at a high volume, with her parents.

But she said her office also has gotten many messages of support and that at home people come up to her in restaurants and supermarkets to ask how the bill is doing.

"TV programs use a variety of sound levels to build dramatic effect. But advertisements have been neither subtle nor nuanced," Eshoo said after the House passed the bill on a voice vote. When the law goes into effect, she said, "consumers will no longer have to experience being blasted at."

The legislation now heading to President Barack Obama for his signature requires the Federal Communications Commission within one year to adopt industry standards that coordinate ad decibel levels to those of regular programs. The new regulations, applying to all broadcast providers, including cable and satellite, would go into effect a year after that.

The FCC has been receiving complaints from consumers since the 1960s.

The legislation would force the industry to abide by its own recommendations for audio standards as devised a year ago by the Advanced Television Systems Committee, an organization of broadcasters.

Dick O'Brien, director of government relations at the American Association of Advertising Agencies, said his group supports the bill because "we fully understand that advertising works best when it engages consumers, not alienates them."

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